Throughout his legendary career, Akira Kurosawa has shown an affinity for the works of William Shakespeare. Three of his films in particular – The Bad Sleep Well, Throne of Bloodand Ran – owe a debt to The Bard even though no line of Shakespeare can be found in any of them. The bad sleep is a loose account of Hamlet moved to contemporary Japan (1960) and Ran is an almost faithful reinterpretation of King Lear located in the 16e century. However, Kurosawa’s first Shakespeare-inspired film was in 1957. throne of bloodwho appropriated the basic plot of macbeth and translated it from 11e
century from Scotland to feudal Japan. And, save for a reworking of the ending (no climactic duel between Macbeth and Macduff analogues), the storyline is familiar, right down to Lady Macbeth’s hand-washing issues. Some critics have argued that, although no lines were retained from the source material, throne of blood represents one of the best (if not the
better) screen versions of the story. Roman Polanski acknowledged that his 1971 film owes a debt to Kurosawa and Michael Fassbender (who played the title character in a 2015 adaptation) said that throne of blood is his “favorite macbeth.”
After captions that explain the background, the film centers on two friends and warriors, Taketoti Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Yoshiaki Miki (Minoru Chiaki), crossing the ghostly forest of Spider’s Web to announce a great victory to Lord Tsuzuki. . (Takamaru Sasaki). They get lost and encounter a malevolent spirit who offers prophecies about their future – that Washizu will become lord of the Cobweb Castle and that Miki’s son will succeed him. When Washizu tells his wife, Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), about the prophecy, she urges him to pursue her, although he is reluctant. However, an opportunity for action arises when Lord Tsuzki comes to stay at his fortress.
Aided by Asaji, who gives drugged sake to Tsuzki’s guards, Washizu kills the Grand Lord and frames a guard for his assassination. Washizu becomes lord of Cobweb Castle, though Tsuzuki’s son, Kunimaru (Hiroshi Tachikawa), and his advisor, Noriyasu (Takashi Shimura), suspect Washizu of being a traitor. Initially, Washizu names Miki’s son (Akira Kubo) as his heir but, when Asaji becomes pregnant, he decides he must kill both his old friend and his son.
Lacking the poetry of Shakespeare’s dialogue to draw upon, Kurosawa fills the void with evocative visuals. The film, shot in black and white, is impeccably composed with an excess of atmosphere. Many scenes feature fog; Kurosawa, always a perfectionist, chose not to use a manufactured mist, instead opting to delay production until he could use the real thing. The film’s opening scenes are chilling, and the final battle captures the chaos of the situation where Washizu faces not just an attacking army, but an insurgency of his own troops. Authentic castle sections were built on the slopes of Mount Fuji (with the help of US Marines stationed there at the time) as the planned facades were not as effective as he had hoped. And, during the climax when arrows are fired at Washizu, there’s nothing wrong with the projectiles…or actor Toshiro Mifune’s panicked expression.
Like with macbethtwo themes emerge in throne of blood. The first is the thorny question of predestination and free will – to what extent does the prophecy guarantee its success by its revelation to Washizu? (If he didn’t know, Washizu would probably never have considered assassinating the Great Lord. But by telling the warrior about his “future,” the spirit sets foot on the road to his doom.) Next, there is the question of the main character’s tragic flaw: ambition. Fueled by his wife’s thirst for status and his own insecurity about his position in the hierarchy of rulers, Washizu grew from a good man and respected warrior to a power-crazed dictator ready for anything, including assassinate his closest ally, to retain his position. on the throne. One of the reasons Kurosawa wanted to do a version of macbeth it is because he saw it as a recurring aspect of human history, repeating itself over and over again over the years. He correctly suspected that, although the film was made in 1957, it would never lose its relevance. (He originally planned to do something based on the play in the late 1940s but delayed it to avoid clashing with Orson Welles’ 1948. macbeth.)
Inasmuch as Kurosawa had favorite “regulars”, his two most well-known actors have prominent roles. By the time throne of blood was directed, Toshiro Mifune had previously starred for the director in Rashomon and
Seven Samuraiwith The hidden fortress just around the corner. Mifune brings his trademark intensity to the role, crafting a high-tension performance that gives Washizu a uniqueness that separates him from other screen Macbeths. Takashi Shimura, who has appeared in more Kurosawa films than Mifune, plays throne of blooditeration of Macduff. As with Mifune, the Ikiru lead came to this movie after Rashomon and Seven Samurai and before The hidden fortress. (He also appeared in both Godzilla
and godzilla king of the monsters.) His understated seriousness helps balance Mifune’s explosive tendencies. The third significant performer is Isuzu Yamada, who plays Lady Washizu. It was the second of three appearances she made in a Kurosawa film (the others being The lower depths and Yojimbo; she was also in Ozu’s Tokyo twilight). Yamada captures both aspects of the character – his cold, conniving scheming and his mental breakdown – with equal aptitude.
throne of blood was a hit in Japan at the time of its release, earning more box office money than any other film that year. Its reception abroad was less sure, with some British and American critics unsure whether the concept of a remake of Shakespeare without the Bard’s words worked. The passage of time, however, secured the film’s place on the “Greatest” lists of 20.e movies of the century.
Throne of Blood (Japan, 1957)
Running time: 1:50
US Release Date:-
MPAA rating: “NR” (violence)
Subtitles: In Japanese with subtitles
Theatrical aspect ratio: 1.33:1