REVIEW: DVD Release: Throne Of Blood

Film: Throne Of Blood
Release date: 22nd October 2001
Certificate: PG
Running time: 105 mins
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo
Genre: Action/Drama/Fantasy/War
Studio: BFI
Format: DVD
Country: Japan

Legendary Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa’s first attempt at adapting a Shakespearean play into the setting of Feudal Japan, Throne Of Blood sees Macbeth retold with haunting visuals, complete with samurai, geishas and ghosts.

Macbeth is undoubtedly one of Shakespeare’s most enduring and classic plays. The eponymous character, a nobleman, is driven by a vision of three witches that prophesy his rise to power to murder his king and claim the throne. Supported by his scheming and persuasive wife, the two enjoy their newfound status until their guilty consciences drive them to madness, which only worsens when men loyal to the king seek to supplant Macbeth’s rule and obtain revenge for the death of their true king.

Transferring the original Scottish setting to Japan, Kurosawa perfectly adapts the story to suit the different culture, and only omits a few characters from Shakespeare’s original. Macbeth is now a samurai named Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), who murders Lord Tzuzuki (Hiroshi Tachikawa) in order to claim his position. Haunted by the ghost of his friend, Washizu and his wife (Isuzu Yamada) succumb to insanity and desperately struggle to defend Spider’s Web Castle, on the slopes of Mount Fuji, from an attacking force.

Within the historical storyline, there also dwells a strong supernatural element. Alongside the figure of ‘Banquo’s’ ghost, Shakespeare’s three witches on the heath now become spectral samurai, and a wizened old forest spirit that predicts the future to Washizu.

Although made in 1957, seeing Throne Of Blood today remains a refreshing experience. Most adaptations of Shakespeare are content with either placing the action in its original period or in contemporary times. The setting of Feudal Japan creates striking visuals that breathes new life into the story, and creates interest out of the different social relationships between characters. However, the film does somewhat suffer from its change into Japanese, as the complexities and beauty of Shakespeare’s language are lost in translation.

This doesn’t distract from the experience of viewing the film. The story itself is strong enough to survive regardless, and the characterisations are wonderful. Isuzu Yamada, playing the role of Lady Macbeth (Asaji), is excellent, although she is ultimately overshadowed by Toshiro Mifune, who delivers another spectacular performance as the central character. He encapsulates all the emotions and conflict that the character experiences, and brings to Washizu’s mental breakdown a terrific physicality, similar to his performances in Rashomon and Seven Samurai. His lively portrayal brings energy and even humour to scenes where the nightmarish visuals and bleak setting could become overwhelming.

The film has an almost dream-like quality, owing to the sometimes excessive use of mist and fog to create a portentous atmosphere. Spider’s Web Castle, where most of the action takes place, is usually revealed to us through a thick swirl of mist, as is the nearby forest where Washizu encounters the ‘witches’. Throne Of Blood overflows with incredible and memorable visuals, in particular the climax where Washizu is hounded to oblivion by hails of arrows, which while rather over-the-top, nonetheless makes for an exciting and iconic piece of cinema.

However, for all the film’s visual liveliness, there also remains a suitably theatrical feel to the direction, where the composition and action in scenes feels like it could be being performed on stage. Possibly inspired by Japanese Kabuki theatre, a number of quieter scenes, where characterisations are focused on are related in a beautiful and subtle manner, and unlike the epic Ran, Kurosawa’s adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Throne Of Blood retains a personal and intimate feel that adds significant dramatic weight to the two central characters. The running time is also notably shorter than Ran and Seven Samurai, making Throne Of Blood a more direct example of Kurosawa’s filmmaking style, and making the perfect introduction for someone unfamiliar with his work.

Excellent performances and stunning visuals make Throne Of Blood one of Kurosawa’s most memorable and exciting works. It may not rank quite as high as his influential masterpieces, such as Seven Samurai and Rashomon, but it remains a wonderful example of his directorial style. A hugely enjoyable viewing experience. CD

1 comment:

  1. More of this please! Really well written piece - I love Kurosawa's work and this is great expression of appreciation about this great film.

    5 star review mate!