I’m the first to admit that my two semesters of Japanese in college have left me with little more than the ability to say hello, count to five, order a beer, thanks (for the beer), and inquire about the location of the men’s room. Come to think of it, that’s probably just about all I really need to survive a trip to Tokyo. That said I’m quite positive that if there is a Japanese word that would translate into English as “migraine-level intensity,” that word would most assuredly be “Mifune.” Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood was released in 1957. This was a couple of years after Seven Samurai and one year prior to The Hidden Fortress, so this was a film by a director at the absolute top of his game. Its title upon opening was Komunoso-jo, which translates to something like “The Castle of the Spider’s Web” or “Spider-Web Castle.” While the story is based upon Shakespeare’s drama Macbeth, calling this film an adaptation nearly belittles it somehow. Throne of Blood shines more in its role as a perfectly-honed period piece, recreating the constant swing of power and ambition in Feudal Japan. As if to further deepen this film’s ties to its historical roots, Kurosawa chose to tell the story partially in the tradition of Noh theatre. It’s a film that proves that the stories told in Shakespeare endure more because of the way they tap into the common denominators, both good and ill, that unify all of humanity. The story of Lord and Lady Macbeth can take place in Feudal Japan just as easily as Elizabethan Scotland because ambition and men doing dumb things to impress or appease women are two of the universal stories seen from the earliest days of history to the present, from one end of the Earth to the other. The production is epic, the scale grand. When Kurosawa realized that building a studio set castle just wouldn’t offer the verisimilitude he hoped to achieve, he built a castle on a section of Mt. Fuji. He liked the way the fog looked on Fuji, and knew he would never quite be able to recreate it on a studio set. As one watches the film, the fog truly does become a character of its own. It wraps and swirls itself around the set to create perfect frames from beginning to end, diligently revealing or obscuring set pieces, actors, and armies with unerring precision. The castle’s construction was accomplished only with the aid of a group of US Marines who were stationed nearby. Its hasty construction in no way detracted from its effectiveness. In fact, it was perhaps all the more convincing for its rudimentary design. But, everything else aside, this is an actor’s film. There is nary a weak link in the cast, and Kurosawa employs all of his directorial wiles to eke out the very best of performances from all involved. The tower guards laze through the night watch, jovially gossiping about the nobility. A husband and his wife commit cold conspiracy in the privacy of their stark chambers. A son helps plan the betrayal of his father’s best friend. And through it all, there is Toshiro Mifune and his degenerating, guilt-ridden, regretfully ambitious scowl. This is Mifune’s movie every bit as much as it is Kurosawa’s. It’s hard to imagine maintaining the level of intensity he delivers without needing a pile of headache pills. He goes from skepticism to obeisance to mystified terror to conspiratorial ruthlessness to bereft-conscience defensiveness to betrayed surprise in an hour and a half. And that death scene! It is the emotional culmination of everything that has come before. To be fair, Kurosawa lent some aid to his lead actor for the death scene. Actual archers carefully choreographed volleys of arrows with Mifune’s stumbling death-throes. Those are real arrows hitting the wall of the fortress around the actor. Resultantly, that is real terror on the actor’s face. This dangerous bit of verite probably wouldn’t fly with SAG today. But then, the level of intensity seen in this film is a rarity in the history of cinema. This is adaptation at its very finest. In no way tied to its source material, it stands entirely upon its own merits. The result is an independent entity that enigmatically deepens one’s appreciation for the original play. Only the very strongest of stories can stand up to non-traditional adaptation, and it is a credit to Shakespeare that his study of ambition and guilt can withstand such a diverse variation. Just as much is it a credit to the mastery of Akira Kurosawa that he could steer such a successful transformation. See larger image Throne of Blood [Blu-ray] This Japanese “Macbeth” features a samurai, his scheming wife and a flurry-of-arrows finale. Directed by Akira Kurosawa. New From: $25.28 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 3 Responses John E. Meredith December 14, 2015 Incredible movie. Thanks for the great write-up. Log in to Reply Macbeth (2015) - Psycho Drive-In December 14, 2015 […] of six at least, off the top of my head, including Orson Welles’, Roman Polanski’s, Kurosawa‘s, along with the brilliant Patrick Stewart Great Performances adaptation from 2010, the […] Log in to Reply Fred L. Taulbee Jr. May 25, 2016 Greatest line: “because ambition and men doing dumb things to impress or appease women are two of the universal stories seen from the earliest days of history to the present, from one end of the Earth to the other.” Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.