Throne of Blood (1957)

The first time I watched Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, I feel asleep about 50 minutes in. I’d just read and seen a stage production of Shakespeare’s MacBeth at the time, which is the source material. This week I tried again, starting at the beginning. I fell asleep at the same place. To be fair, though, I started watching much too late, so I wasn’t in optimal viewing mode.

I did finally finish it in two more sittings. Toshiro Mifune is the MacBeth character, Washizu. After a great victory in battle, he and his friend Miki discover a spirit in the forest who predicts that Washizu will be king, as will Miki’s sons.

The story proceeds mostly according to the play, but what makes this movie powerful and unique are the stunning visuals and the transposition of the story to feudal Japan. Also fascinating is the Japanese version of Macbeth and his lady. Lady Washizu speaks softly with goading words. She is all the more frightening for her passivity, and the power she wields with it.

Admirable, my Lord. You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you.

The ending splits from the text. While the trees of the forest do rise, it is not a MacDuff character who undoes Washizu, but his own men, an unthinkable act of rebellion enacted in a flurry of arrows (most of them real!). Well worth it for fans of Shakespeare, film and Kurosawa, but be sure you’ll alert before you begin, so you can fully appreciate the visual treats to come.

Comments are closed.