Kurosawa Akira’s Ran identifies the Great Lord, Ichimonji Hidetora, and his respective sons using a system of mons. However, the absence of Saburo’s mon at the beginning of the film and the dissimilarity of Saburo’s mon (from his father and brothers) raises and answers the difficult question of Saburo’s metaphorical identity. Under this heraldic system, Saburo is portrayed as both a Buddha figure and as a symbol for those who Ichimonji Hidetora injured.

This heraldic system identifies the characters principally according to mons or heraldic symbols. The Great Lord, Ichimonji Hidetora, is identified as a sun over a moon. Taro is identified as a sun. Jiro is identified as a moon. Hidetora, Taro, and Jiro are identified by these symbols early in the film. However, Saburo’s symbol first shows up on his jacket and helmet when he comes to the Ichimonji Realm to seek his father, Hidetora. Saburo’s symbol looks strange. It appears at first glance to be a half moon or sun, but it is neither. It is too parabolic to be the representation of a sphere. Unlike the other two brothers, Saburo’s symbol is on none of Saburo’s flags (including the big flags). Unlike Hidetora, Saburo also lacks a Roman-style pole emblem (vexillum) to display Saburo’s symbol. So what does Saburo represent?

In analyzing Saburo’s metaphorical identity, consider the final scene—the funeral scene. As the scene opens, you hear a mournful requiem playing in the background. A procession of somber soldiers wearing black armor with white pants and white trimmings marches past the screen carrying the Great Lord, Ichimonji Hidetora, on a stretcher-like platform across the Azusa Plains in front of the ruins of Tsurumaru’s/Sué’s father’s castle. Hidetora holds tightly to his sword though dead. Hidetora’s court fool walks beside the procession weeping. The background is the color of blood. Dust obscures the background. Immediately we, the viewers, are hit with the magnitude of the personage who died, but the placement has less to do with flattering the Great Lord and more to do with the attitude of the second corpse. Saburo cared about his father first (despite his sometimes disrespectful way of showing his familial love for his father). And, in death, Saburo displays this caring attitude toward his father through his vassals’ act of putting Hidetora (literally) first. Next in the procession is Saburo, himself, carried in the same manner as his father Hidetora.

Saburo and Tsurumaru are linked through the image of the white powder on the ruins and the respective positions of Saburo’s retinue and Tsurumaru. However, the significance of this link is generated by the relation of Saburo’s retinue and Tsurumaru to each other and to the ruins. The film cuts to a more distant view of the procession. This full shot shows the great size of the procession as it winds through the Azusa Plains. On Tsurumaru’s father’s castle ruins in the background, we get our first glimpse of Saburo’s mon. There is white powdery sand on the ruins in the same parabolic shape as Saburo’s mon. Saburo’s men, carrying their banners proud (though marching slowly and somberly) travel beneath the symbol of their dead Lord Saburo. The sky in the background is red with charcoal gray clouds. The appearance of Saburo’s mon on the ruins and the sky paint a picture of death. It also paints another picture. Earlier in the film, when Hidetora ceded authority to Taro, Saburo said that he and his brothers were born of an era of the strife of their father’s (Hidetora’s) wars. During the course of the conversation, Saburo made clear that his brothers were of the same fiber as their mutual father (which is reflected both in Hidetora’s, Taro’s, and Jiro’s respective mons as well as in the fact all three pray to the war god) and Saburo was not (though Saburo cared for his father’s welfare). Saburo can be identified with the ruins as his attitude resembles that of the Buddhist victims of Hidetora: Tsurumaru and Sué.

There is another cut which gives us a view of Tsurumaru alone on the edge of the castle ruins (as he stares out at the procession in spite of his blindness) standing where his, now dead, sister left him. Tsurumaru is small as we see from a distance with Saburo’s mon beneath him in the frame. Kurosawa has now made the identification complete between Saburo and Tsurumaru’s family as Saburo’s mon shows up on the castle ruins. Another cut gives us a closer view (although still a full shot) of Tsurumaru. The requiem music stops suddenly and all we hear is the wind. The wind sounds ghostly with the accompanying silence. The silence focuses our attention on Tsurumaru. The sky is red and white. This color pattern identifies Tsurumaru with the sky (pictorially showing his high/good spirit and lofty spiritual ideals). It is clear from Saburo’s actions toward his father, Hidetora, that Saburo shares Tsurumaru’s ideals; now, through the linking of Tsurumaru with the ruins and the ruins with Saburo, it is clear that Saburo and Tsurumaru are metaphorically and symbolically connected and associated as well.

Tsurumaru holds on to the image of Buddha Amida (his sister gave Tsurumaru to protect him) in his left hand and taps the ground in front of him with his right hand as he advances toward the edge of the gray castle wall he is standing on. Suddenly, Tsurumaru taps air instead of dirt which causes him to lose his balance; the image of Buddha Amida drops out of his hand. Tsurumaru still tries to hold on by the string (as the camera zooms in on the image) and retreats backward, away from the edge. However, Tsurumaru fails to hold on and drops the Buddha. The Buddha Amida is lost! The silence, which focused our attention on Tsurumaru, highlights Tsurumaru’s action as significant in the metaphoric identification of Saburo. Tsurumaru lost his protector and is now alone.

It is here that the flute theme that Tsurumaru played for Hidetora begins to play in the background. The music is significant because it causes Hidetora to go mad earlier in the film (when Hidetora, Tango, and the court fool were guests in Tsurumaru’s shack). A question thus develops. With the Buddha lost, why is the music associated with the worship of Buddha earlier in the film now being played? Next, there is a cut to a full shot with Tsurumaru (in his red and gold robes) resting on his cane looking out over the edge of the castle ruins toward the horizon in front of him. It is here that that question posed by the music is duly answered. Tsurumaru is without his protector, the Buddha Amida, but somehow has not lost hope. Tsurumaru stands tall, seemingly unshaken by the loss. When Hidetora lost his last hope of a protector, Saburo, Hidetora died from sorrow. But Tsurumaru does not collapse as Hidetora did. Tsurumaru appears to continue to watch in the direction of the procession drawing strength from it somehow. The procession of the dead Saburo, with its masterless retinue, comforts the protectorless Tsurumaru.

To further this association and metaphor, Kurosawa continues with the next series of shots. The next cut gives us a view of the image of Buddha Amida resting on the ground. The ground is black and the image is in shadow except for the Buddha’s head and feet. Another cut focuses us on the head and the frame is filled with the head and the large sun that lies beneath said Buddha’s head. The dropping of the image over Saburo’s mon is symbolic recognition of Saburo’s death and of the fact that Saburo is the Buddha figure. If Saburo is the Buddha figure, then Tsurumaru draws strength from Buddha when Tsurumaru “stares” at Saburo’s retinue (despite being blind). There is another cut, which gives us a full shot of Tsurumaru. A further cut fills the frame with the ruins with Tsurumaru alone on the cliff, showing an especially large version of Saburo’s mon beneath. The last cut shows us the entire ruins with a very large version of Saburo’s mon below and (as always) to the right of Tsurumaru (who is now little more than a speck on the screen). Saburo clearly appears to comfort Tsurumaru in his loss (though Saburo is also quite dead). Saburo is the platform which supports Tsurumaru, as Saburo is the ruins itself.

By Saburo’s mon being in the ruins, Saburo is identified with the landmark that bears witness to the cruelty Hidetora showed the Buddhist family to which Tsurumaru belongs (and which Hidetora injured). Through this identification, Saburo is revealed to be of the same fiber as Tsurumaru and Sué. The identification of Saburo with Tsurumaru and the picture of the Buddha Amida image resting on the ruins also paints Saburo as a Buddha figure.

The fool’s question — “Are there no gods… no Buddha?” — is partially answered. Buddha is lost—dead—killed by the worshipers of the war god, the sun and (the) moon. Buddha lies in the ruins left behind by the sun and (the) moon in their/its conquest. But Buddha lives on in the hearts and minds of the ruined, especially Saburo’s retinue, as shown by the reaction to Saburo’s retinue, as if Saburo’s retinue were the Buddha.