Any Colour You Like: Considerations on the Surface of Things – Color, Matter, and Architectural Space

Any Colour You Like: Considerations on the Surface of Things – Color, Matter, and Architectural Space

Luigi Trentin
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2823-5.ch016
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The text starts from some observations on the role of color as an element of the language of cinema. In a particular way, two films are compared: Ran by Akira Kurosa and Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter…and Spring by Kim-duk KIm. The two films show how color can take on a narrative character, but according to two different point of view. The modern idea of color is clearly expressed in the first: the white light is split through Newton's prism and generates the primary colors: origin of the story and determination of the role of the characters. Pre-modern colors are expressed in the second film: they cannot be split because they belong to the physicality of things and cannot be mixed because their nature is chemically different. This difference exists even if we extend our observations to the world of materials. The prevalence of surface values brought into the project world has a perfect simulation situation of different materials that have a completely different nature inside. The text develops these considerations, showing how in a prevalence of the surface value of things.
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The masterpiece by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, Ran (Japan, 1985), a brilliant reinterpretation of Shakespeare's tragedy King Lear, begins with a long sequence where the main characters of the film are presented.

Now, if we observe the magnificent costumes - awarded with the 1986 Oscar in the dedicated category - we immediately understand that the element of color is not dictated by chance or scenographic setting choices, but assumes an authentic role of narrative element: through the colors we can already identify, from the beginning of the story, the role that the characters will play and their psychological type.

Let's start by saying that the premise for this plot device is the theory of the decomposition of light in the color spectrum of Newton (1676), an experiment known to all and whose perhaps most popular image is the cover of the Pink Floyd album “The Dark Side of the Moon”, which shows in iconographic form the profile of the prism used by Newton himself to break down light into its visible chromatic components.

The modern color theory also derives from the decomposition of light according to its chromatic components, a theory to which we are all accustomed to from our formal school education. Primary and secondary colors, the relationship of complementarity, etc. are all notions that we take for granted and on which we tend to base our relationship with color.

Now, the film by the Japanese master Kurosawa, despite the historical setting and the traditional design of the costumes, presents a very interesting communicative device, since it is based precisely on the modern idea of color. I do not think it's accidental that right at the beginning of the film the chromatic element is used to identify the characters with an almost didactic clarity. Let us try to re-examine the sequence: Prince Hidetora Ichimonji, a feudal lord who controls a vast territory, communicates to his children an important decision he made regarding his succession. The meeting takes place outdoors, during a pause in a hunting trip, and in the presence of other feudal lords and characters of the court. Color emphasizes the distribution of roles; the Prince is dressed in white: the Light, the sum of all the components. In summary: the unity of the kingdom and its leadership. The three sons, Taro, Jiro and Saburo, are dressed in traditional clothes but it cannot be a coincidence that they are assigned to the three primary colors: yellow, red and blue. If we consider that the Prince is talking about the subdivision of the feud and the roles he intends to attribute to his sons, on a basis of relative equality of treatment, we can read the filmic choice in this way: the light splits into its components, but three of these have equal value - they are in fact primary colors - and their unity reconfirms the origin of the power conferred on them (white light). Everything seems to work, on a theoretical level: those who have seen or will see how the story develops, will understand that the theory of color or the metaphor proposed by the Prince with the image of a bundle of arrows tied together, cannot break, to avoid the development of the tragedy. Throughout the story, the colors will also have the precious role of allowing the identification of the movements of army troops, military and strategic role of great cinematic narrative device, effective for the help that it provides the viewer with, in order to decipher some crowded battle shots.

Let us now analyze, specifically, the character of Hidetora Ichimonji's three sons in relation to their chromatic connotation. Taro is the first to take action, once the roles assigned by the initial sequence have been clarified: Kurosawa assigns the color yellow to him. This is an interesting choice, because yellow is often associated with the idea of speed and dynamism. Jiro is dressed in red: all too evident his role in the tragedy that will consistently be that of violence, betrayal and bloodshed; to these traits is added the passionate character, which will see him involved in a relationship with Taro's wife and which will eventually lead him to dramatic consequences. Saburo dresses an almost childlike blue: he immediately doubts the sincerity of the brothers and puts himself in a waiting position, of calm meditation, (a sort of “acting - non acting” of Zen derivation) contemplating the events.

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