In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other...and him.
After securing a major victory on the battlefield, Taketoti Washizu and one of his commanders, Yoshiaki Miki, find themselves lost in the maze-like Spider's Web forest. They come across a spirit-like seer who tells them of their future: both have been promoted because of their victory that day; Washizu will someday be the Great Lord of the Spider's Web castle while Miki's son will someday rule as Great Lord as well. When they arrive at the castle, they learn that the first part of the prophecy is correct. Washizu has no desire to become Great Lord but his ambitious wife urges him to reconsider. When the current Great Lord makes a surprise visit to his garrison outpost, Washizu is again promoted to commander of his vanguard but his wife reminds him of the danger that comes with the position. As pressure mounts, Wahizu takes action leading to its inevitable conclusion.Written by
not Kurosawa's best, but a dark overtone and a terrific performance by Mifune as a bloodthirsty madman makes it worth your while
Akira Kurosawa is one of the most celebrated and renowned of all filmmakers not only because he created some of the world's greatest visionary masterpieces such "Seven Samurai" (1954), "Rashomon" (1950), and "Yojimbo" (1961) but because he had the nerve to draw in on formulas and elements from all around the world and not just those of his native Japan. He is considered the most Western of all Japanese filmmakers, having owed a lot of his influence to men such as John Ford. But there also came times when Kurosawa would tend to the realm of William Shakespeare and the influential plays that he created so many years before.
The Shakespearian play "Macbeth" is considered one of the playwright's classics, so it wasn't a surprise when Akira Kurosawa decided to film his own adaptation of the story and blend it with his own shocking twists and ideas. His 1957 film "Throne of Blood", while not entirely faithful to Shakespeare's play and not alluding to any of the original dialogue is ranked one of the greatest "Macbeth" adaptations of all time. And remember, this is a story that has been modified and reconstructed over and over again through the centuries.
The basic plot remains the same. Toshiro Mifune stars as the Japanese equivalent to Macbeth: a war hero-turned-ruler who, upon being egged by his vindictive and cynical wife (Isuzu Yamada) and being told a strange prophecy about his future, plots to murder his own master and anybody who stands in his way. Once the murder is committed, peace does not follow, but rather a long chain of bloody killings until the position Mifune holds is exactly what the title personifies.
Although I strongly feel that Kurosawa did a better treatment of the Shakespeare play "King Lear" with "Ran" (1985) and that this film does not rank on top with some of his others, "Throne of Blood" is still a very good and very visionary and creative opus. And part of the reason why I like it is because of its inherently dark nature. Unlike "Yojimbo" (1961) which made a sort of glory out of violence, "Throne of Blood" has an atmosphere of terror and intensity around it. Right from the beginning, when we hear Masaru Sato's chilling opening score, we know this is going to be a dark film. Toshiro Mifune was perfect casting as the bloodthirsty Washizu. Although he is far less evil that Macbeth from the play, Washizu is in his own way, more intimidating due to his viciousness and again, those eyes. Mifune maintains the impression of a madman throughout the course of the film and gives us the impression of a wild animal hungry for human flesh and blood. I was also very fond of the performance by Isuzu Yamada as Lady Macbeth's equivalent. Although her performance is mainly a one-note ordeal, it still works out well and there was something about her that reminded me not of a snake like one would expect, but a rat. I do not know if Kurosawa did this intentionally, but when she walks, the lower garments of her robe rubs against the floor with a kind of squeal-like wisp. And like a rat, she spreads her disease: the thirst for blood.
"Throne of Blood" is not a perfect film, however. The music score by Masaru Sato, save for the opening theme and a few cues here and there, is rather forgettable. Some of the supporting cast members, such as those by Akira Kubo and Takashi Shimura seem very underdeveloped. However, any weaknesses that become noticeable are soon forgiven when Kurosawa's original and terrific ending scene comes into frame which was a major improvement over the disappointing climax from the play.
So overall, Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood" is again, not his best film, but certainly a very unique and entertaining one and a great vision of the Japanese perception of Shakespeare's classic.
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