1/12/12

Throne of Blood (1957) Mifune Watches the Throne (Without Kanye's Help)

When I set out to present a month of movies with 'blood' drenched titles for National Blood Donation Month, I didn't consider it would also be an injection of films that have been on my mind to watch for sometime. A couple days back, I viewed my very first Jean Rollin movie Lips of Blood, and while today's director, Akira Kurosawa, was not unknown to me, I had seen as much as the next guy. That is if the next guy watched The Seven Samurai to see how The Magnificent Seven and Battle Beyond the Stars stack up as remakes. What I didn't know going into today's selection, 1957's Throne of Blood, was that it was a remake of sorts. It seems that at its core Kurosawa's movie has something to do with a play written by some joker called William Shakespeare. More on that later. Right now, I'm trying to get a damn spot out. So check out the synopsis and I'll be back to talk more on the double (double, toil and trouble).

Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Minoru Chiaki) are two warriors in the service of the Great Lord Tsuzuki who rules from his fortified castle in thick of the Spider Web forest. On their way to report to him, they encounter an evil spirit in the woods that foretells their future. The spirit says that Washizu is destined to rule of over Spider Web Castle while his friend Miki would become a great general and his son would someday sit on the throne. After Washizu relays this knowledge to his wife Asaji (Isizu Yamada), she seeks for him to take destiny in his own hands. When the Great Lord visits Washizu's garrison, Asaji drugs the leader's guards and convinces her husband to murder Tsuzuki. After Washizu forces the spirit's predictions to come true, he becomes Great Lord of Spider Web Castle, but he also begins to go helplessly mad in the face of his actions.

If you haven't surmised it from my wan attempts at humor at the end of the first paragraph of the synopsis, Throne of Blood is a version of Willie Shakespeare's MacBeth. While there are a number of liberties taken with the Bard of Avon's play, many hail Throne of Blood as the greatest film adaptation of the play, and it has even been reported that it was a favorite of literary great T.S. Elliot. Kurosawa's taut adaptation gains much of its strength from long, lingering shots of the actors which hammer home the emotional resonance of their actions. The greatest example comes when Washizu dispatches the Great Lord. While the warrior, spear in hand, goes to do the dirty deed, the camera doesn't follow him. Instead it lingers on Isizu Yamada's Asaji, the Lady Macbeth if you will, and the look of intense anticipation of the murder goes much further than seeing the act would have done. The film is chock full of moments like these that enhance what might otherwise be a familiar and common tale of the lust for power.

It's almost impossible to think about Kurosawa without thinking about his frequent leading man Toshiro Mifune. Over the course of their careers, they made sixteen films together in one of the most fruitful actor-director partnerships of all time. Throne of Blood was their tenth collaboration, and the two could not have been more in synch. They really had to be. In the final scene, Washizu is pelted with arrows, and Kurosawa used real archers with only Mifune's motions to remind the shooters which way he would move next. Now that is trust in your director. Mifune gives a powerhouse performance, but it really comes alive as Washizu unravels. The madness in his eyes seems clear as day, and it is a sight to behold. Just as stunning is the performance given by Isizu Yamada. She truly got to the heart of the treacherous nature of her character and proves that Asaji is no woman to cross. While all the actors give solid performances, the film belonged to Mifune and Yamada. A special mention should also go to Chieko Naniwa as the evil wood spirit. With only a couple intensely unnerving scenes, he imparted everything that comes after with a sense of dread that three witches around a cauldron could only dream of brewing up.

Kurosawa never did anything small, and Throne of Blood was no exception. Building his sets atop Mt. Fuji because, "it has precisely the stunted landscape that I wanted. And it is usually foggy. I had decided that I wanted lots of fog for this film.", he makes the setting just as compelling as the scenario. That may be why Throne of Blood is such as wonderful film. Top to bottom, it is a story in full with every shot, scene, and nuance bringing something into the film's events. There is no wasted time or filler. At a tight hundred minutes, Kurosawa tells Shakespeare's tale of the doomed Prince of Denmark with incredible precision,  an emotional depth, and a masterwork of film making. Now I must get back to this spot. Does anyone have any club soda? Will that take blood off a throne? Well, if I find out, you'll hear all about it when we reconvene here in a day or two as National Blood Donation Month continues!

Bugg Rating


1 comment:

  1. Nice pick! Macbeth is probably my favorite SHakespeare play in that it lends itself so well to adaptation. Love the Polanski film as well. Kurosawa nails it here.

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