Categories
Features Live Action Movies

Throne Of Blood

Director – Akira Kurosawa – 1957 – Japan – Cert. 12 – 110m

*****

Currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the five month long Japan 2020 programme alongside 21 other Kurosawa films together with a much wider selection of Japanese movies including some as yet unannounced anime.

Macbeth is one of Shakespeare’s most familiar plays. In 1957, Kurosawa reworked it against the backdrop of feudal, 16th Century Japan. Ascendant samurai Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) hear from an old crone at a spinning wheel in the forest that Washizu will become Lord of Cobweb Castle, later to be succeeded by Miki’s son. Washizu’s wife Asaji (Isuzu Yamada, her face rigidly fixed in Noh mask poses) preys on his insecurities to convince Washizu to murder his way to the top. Slayings, ghost sightings, hand washing and his demise duly ensue.

Not only does Kurosawa jettison all Shakespeare’s dialogue, he also makes the material thoroughly his own even while remaining true to its essence. For instance, when Washizu, eating in public, sees Miki’s ghost, Mifune with the camera following him starts running around like a man possessed, slashing wildly at an unseen apparition. Watching this, it’s hard to imagine it ever being shot on film (let alone performed on a stage) any other way. Likewise, the forest with its shafts of sunlight piercing rain and mist and its literally cobweb-like branches constantly breaking up the image, represents a singular vision.

Kurosawa was equally at home adapting highbrow writers like Shakespeare or Dostoevsky (The Idiot), lowbrow pulp fiction authors like Dashiell Hammett (Yojimbo) or writing his own material from scratch. His better films, the deftly economic Throne Of Blood among them, remain far more effective than most movies made today.

Review first published in What’s On In London to coincide with a two month long Kurosawa retrospective at London’s National Film Theatre (NFT).

Currently streaming on BFI Player as part of the five month long Japan 2020 programme alongside 21 other Kurosawa films together with a much wider selection of Japanese movies including some as yet unannounced anime.

Introduction by Sir Ian McKellen here.

Trailer:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.