filmmaker Akira Kurosawa channels the Bard to create
Throne of Blood, a simultaneous adaptation
and expansion of the famous tragedy Macbeth.
In many ways, it is the very "Japanese-ness"
of Kurosawa's retellingthe characters, the setting,
the style, and the deviations from the original textthat
makes the film a standout among all other previous
and subsequent adaptations of the Shakespeare classic.
Toshiro Mifune takes
on the Macbeth role as Taketori Washizu. Early in
the film, he and fellow compatriot Miki (Minoru Chiaki)
find themselves lost in the wilderness surrounding
their lord's castle. In the maze of trees, they meet
a creepy witch who prophecies that Washizu will soon
rise to power, but that Miki's offspring will assume
control thereafter. The two soldiers return to the
castle, and quickly learn that one of the witch's
lesser predictions has come to pass. This turn of
events so affects Washizu that he tells his wife,
Lady Asaji (Isuzu Yamasa), about his supernatural
encounter. And like Lady Macbeth, the thoroughly ruthless
Asaji convinces her husband to murder the feudal lord
and usurp power. Though initially resistant to her
commands, Washizu gives into his wife and commits
murder, the first step in a long, bloody road to ruin
as Washizu succeeds in fulfilling his end of the prophecy,
but ultimately traps himself in a claustrophobic hell
of his own making.
Throne of Blood
may not be a rousing adventure in the tradition of
The Seven Samurai or The Hidden Fortress,
but that is by no means a criticism of the film's
merits. Throne of Blood is its own animaldark,
chaotic, and above all brilliant. Rather than show
us a world in which heroes fight on the side of good,
Kurosawa instead plunges us headlong into Washizu's
nightmarish reality of shadows and fog, a world where
destiny and free will collide, with tragic results.
And heck, if that doesn't sell you on the movie, then
perhaps this will: Throne of Blood contains
the single most intense, frightening, and oddly humorous
scene of death by multiple arrows ever put on film.
No joke. Hero, eat your heart out! (Calvin McMillin,