It’s terrific, I think. Mifune has become one of my favorite actors — he has an intensity that probably would seem very unnatural in an American performer, maybe Nicholson or Cagney come close, but it seems so perfect in Mifune. The way the wife disappears into a dark room to get the spiked sake is so sinister — all of her scenes were chilling, it’s the only Macbeth I’ve seen that suggests that she was always quietly insane from the beginning and not just when she’s washing her hands. The treatment of the witch is effective, too, and I like how her creepy song parallels the old shaman whom Mifune rebukes at the feast for depressing him with his dirge-like dancing.
I feel like this film was a response to Japan’s defeat in World War II and to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The idea of ruthless military ambition, the witch’s speeches about piling up thousands of corpses, the actual piles of skulls and bones — it all seems like it has to do with 20th century Japanese history, paraphrased to the middle ages.
The idea of the self-compelling (more than just self-fulfilling) prophesy was clever. The witch has made two predictions, one of which has already come true; therefore the mere existence of the second prediction puts your life in jeopardy; therefore you must fulfill the prediction in order to preempt your own assassination. Not that I know much about it, but I was reminded of game theory.
The connection with modern Japanese history hadn’t occurred to me. Interesting idea. Indeed it’s amazing the extremes to which both sides went in the Second World War, as if they were under some bewitchment.
Good point about the self-compelling prophecy. It’s almost more of a paranoia that drives Washiku and his wife, rather than the ambition that figures in Macbeth. As adaptations go, I thought Kurosawa was right to abandon the literal text — I’ve always thought Shakespeare’s language is unfilmable, and essentially uncinematic. It holds a film hostage. Welles came the closest, and Jarman did very interesting things with The Tempest. But as I watched Throne of Blood I recalled how Shakespeare himself was a master adapter, taking old stories and chronicles and bits of this and that and weaving it into something new. So I think Kurosawa was completely right.
This is a great film, but I don’t even think this is the best film he made that year. The Lower Depths is what I consider to be his masterpiece. How can one man make so many great films? The first time I watched it I was really just dumbfounded at how he was able to make such a realistic portrayal of man’s self-made downfall. His symbols and metaphors are enormous in scope, but he never loses grasp of the story. Just amazing.
You could say this was a response to Japan in the Second World War, but I think it’s bigger than that. I think the real message is any man that reaches beyond his means (whether he be the leader of Japan during WWII, or your neighbor down the street who has too many pets) is set for a fall.
The birds are an interesting and original symbol — the ominous cries of the night bird, and then the invasion of the castle by a swarm of birds. Before Hitchcock, too. Everything was handled brilliantly from a visual perspective: the way the trees march through the mist, it really looks supernatural. Kurosawa makes you forget all the familiar plot twists of Macbeth and surprises you all over again.
Justin, I have to disagree. I’m not saying that non-Shakespearean Shakespeare adaptations aren’t often good, or even great, but Shakespeare is not unfilmable. You said Welles came close but he came more than close. His Othello is phenomenal. Also Olivier did some great Shakespeare films. I like Shakespeare though so maybe I’m bias.
I love Shakespeare, I just think that one or the other — the language or the film — always suffers. I don’t even like to see his plays staged that much as opposed to just reading them. One big problem is the soliloquies: on film, they are always much duller than they actually are.
Well yes of course somethings will be lost, but don’t you feel there are many adaptations that are fantastic although inferior to reading the play in its entirety?
Not really. I’ve never seen one that was cinematically alive. It’s always distracting. Welles had some great ideas, both he and Jarman, like true filmmakers, “open up” the plays considerably. But watching Throne of Blood I thought, This is how to do Shakespeare on film. It makes me want to see Ran next, Kurosawa’s King Lear.
i love how kurosawa and his cinemtographer went out to create the same feeling as (the name of the style eludes me) certain japanese paintings and the Noh theater influences in the music as well as in the performances (Washizu’s wife) add a layer of creepiness to the proceedings. That sound of that piercing flute at the end is imbeded in my memory as something that cojures up fog and tragedy.
Its interesting that those two design concepts ended up being featured very prominently in two of his later works RAN and Kagemusha.
Isuzu Yamada is one of the greatest Lady Macbeth’s that I have ever seen. She is more frightening than any of them.
Yeah, she’s great, just as Mieko Harada is a terrific baddie in Ran. So many wonderful Japanese actresses! I admire the use of fog- Kurosawa was certainly one for the weather (especially rain)- and i did enjoy it, but given AK’s sky-high reputation, Macbeth being my favourite Shakespeare, and the film being T S Eliot’s favourite, i’d expected something greater.
I’ve used this film in my teaching for many years. I always try to make the simple point to students that it shows how universal the story is – move “Macbeth” from Scotland to Japan, change all the character names (and combine 3 into 1 in one case), place names, period, dialogue and cultural references, yet it’s still very easy to peg as Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”. I think it’s almost certainly the best “Macbeth” film out there.
As far as the actual play goes — I’d say that it isn’t especially cinematic up until the final act (5), where the relatively quick cutting back and forth between Macbeth & Malcolm’s battle preparations really does have a film-like rhythm to it (and conversely can give some difficulty to stage productions — somewhat unusual for Shakespeare, who so often kept the practical considerations of the eventual production in mind.).
Throne of Blood is pure cinema, no question. Kurosawa’s treatment resulted in the film looking like one of those atmospheric Japanese plays. All you need is a she-fox and the whole castle tumbles down. The final reckoning, the scene where Mifune met his end, will always be one of the most indelible, unforgettable image in film history. Whether it succeded in it’s adaptation of Shakespeare is a moot point, just my opinion anyway. And that damned scene in the forest with the witch still gives me nightmares to this day.