Throne of Blood

Throne of Blood (1957) movie poster

(1957) dir. Akira Kurosawa
viewed: 11/19/08

After watching several of famed director Akira Kurosawa’s films, I can say that Throne of Blood is a true masterpiece.  The story is adapted from Shakespeare’s Macbeth and rendered in midieval Japan, directed with significant influence of Noh theater, a traditional Japanese type of performance.  It’s a mixture of many things, yet classical, compelling, epic, strange, surreal and beautiful.  It is said that this is one of Kurosawa’s most formalistic structured films, and certainly that is notable.  Kurosawa had an amazing ability to draw from Western narratives and create films that are unique and still very Japanese.  Of the films that I’ve seen in recent years, Rashômon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), and The Bad Sleep Well (1960), this has been the most striking and stunning of the four.

Kurosawa is a huge name in world cinema, and these films are part of the influx of world cinema into the United States via the distribution of Jannus films starting in the 1950’s and now housed on these excellent Criterion Collection DVD’s.  Of the 20th Century, it is easy to say that Akira Kurosawa was one of the most important, influental and masterful directors, like Alfred Hitchcock, John Ford, or Howard Hawks.  I compare him more with the American directors because his films were also essentially genre films, spanning genres, and while perhaps more outwardly “arty” than the American work, his avant-garde qualities are embedded in his more tradtional narratives compared with the major filmmakers from Europe and elsewhere.

The cinematography and the structure are fascinating.  The film’s first shot emerges from the fog, a memorial to a castle (Spider’s Web Castle, the literal translation of the Japanese film title), and out of the fog emerges the story.  I’ve read Macbeth many years ago and am familiar with generalities about it, but not by any means in any depth.  Two military heroes emerge from a significant battle and get lost in the Spider’s Web Woods on the way back, encountering a witch, a figment of evil.  The film has both a naturalism and a fantastical aspect, moving between the location shots, near Mt. Fuji to sound stage performance, that is more dramatic, more theatrical, but filmed with power and wholly cinematic.

The two are foretold of their rise in rank, and further of Washizu (Toshirô Mifune in the Macbeth role) to the throne, and further still, Miki (Yoshiteru Miki), his best friend’s son to the throne as well.  Spurred by Lady Washizu, Mifune is led to acts of treachery and ruthlessness, self-fulfilling the prophecies and ultimately bringing doom to himself and the kingdom.

Every aspect of the film is brilliant.  One of the finest ever.  Totally awesome.

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