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Throne of Blood
|     review    |     notes      |     availability     |
Japanese: Kumonosu-jo
AKA: Castle of the Spider's Web, Cobweb Castle
Year: 1957
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Producer: Sojiro Motoki, Akira Kurosawa
Cast: Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamasa, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo, Minoru Chiaki
The Skinny: A Japanese take on a Shakespeare classic that rivals—if not tops—all previous and subsequent Western interpretations.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

     Master 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 retelling—the characters, the setting, the style, and the deviations from the original text—that 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 animal—dark, 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, 2003)

Notes: • Kurosawa and his co-writers did not refer to actual copies of Macbeth while drafting the screenplay, but instead relied mainly on their memories of reading the play as students. In fact, some had never read it in the first place.
• In the climactic arrow scene, the fear on Toshiro Mifune's face may not be just good acting. Though safety precautions were taken, archers fired real arrows at Mifune.
• Noh masks influenced the makeup and the mannerisms of some of the characters, Lady Asaji in particular.
• The Criterion Collection DVD offers two alternative subtitle translations: one by Japanese-film translator Linda Hoagland and the other by Kurosawa expert Donald Richie.

Region 1 NTSC
Criterion Collection
Full Screen (Original Aspect Ratio)
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English Subtitles
Audio Commentary by Japanese-film expert Michael Jeck
Booklet containing an essay by Stephen Prince (The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa) and notes on subtitling by Linda Hoagland and Donald Richie
Theatrical Trailer

image courtesy of The Criterion Collection
 Copyright 2002-2017 Ross Chen