Throne of Blood - Criterion Collection [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]
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A champion of illumination and experimental shading, Kurosawa brings his unerring eye for indelible images to Shakespeare in this 1957 adaptation of Macbeth. By changing the locale from Birnam Wood to 16th-century Japan, Kurosawa makes an oddball argument for the trans-historicity of Shakespeare's narrative; and indeed, stripped to the bare mechanics of the plot, the tale of cut-throat ambition rewarded (and thwarted) feels infinitely adaptable. What's lost in the translation, of course, is the force and beauty of the language--much of the script of Throne of Blood is maddeningly repetitive or superfluous--but striking visual images (including the surreal Cobweb Forest and some extremely artful gore) replace the sublime poetry. Toshiro Mifune is theatrically intense as Washizu, the samurai fated to betray his friend and master in exchange for the prestige of nobility; he portrays the ill-fated warrior with a passion bordering on violence, and a barely concealed conviviality. Somewhat less successful is Isuzu Yamada as Washizu's scheming wife; her poise and creepy impassivity, chilling at first, soon grows tedious. Kurosawa himself is the star of the show, though, and his masterful use of black-and-white contrast--not to mention his steady, dramatic hand with a battle scene--keeps the proceedings thrilling. A must-see for fans of Japanese cinema, as well as all you devotees of samurai weapons and armour. --Miles Bethany --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.
'...possiby the finest Shakespearean adaptation ever committed to the screen.' --The Guardian
'Kabuki Macbeth...like nothing you've ever seen. This is fimmaking with risk and greatness in its blood.' --The Movie Guide --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.
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That said, I agree with the majority of the reviewers that the film is a masterpiece; and to a Western viewer, the alien world which it shows adds to the fascination. The buildings, clothes, decor, mode of speech, even the way people sit and move, seem extraordinary to me - but that makes the film a more interesting experience than otherwise.
Visually, Throne Of Blood is, for me, as impressive as anything that Kurosawa ever did, mixing expansive battle scenes with more intimate, subtler, atmospheric moments - typically either set against mist-enshrouded backgrounds or 'sparsely decorated' period interiors (all courtesy of cinematographer Asaichi Nakai's versatile black-and-white camera). Equally, Masaru Sato's score complements the film's brooding ambience with its mix of restrained and haunting themes, plus slow drum-beats (which recur frequently). Never has samurai armour appeared more resplendently detailed, particularly during the key (and highlight) early scene as Washizu and (best friend and co-combatant) Minoru Chiaki's Miki are confronted by a stunning 'bleached spirit' (Chieko Naniwa), who foretells their futures, undermining their hitherto unwavering mutual trust and sowing the seeds for future tragedy.
Thereafter, Washizu's spouse, Isuzu Yamada's impressive, coldly calculating Asaji, takes on the role of 'harbinger of doom' (with an eye on her own ambitions, of course), persuading her other half that (his) future success depends on his 'disposing' of all rivals. Consistent with Kurosawa's title, blood is, of course, a key motif, first conveying 'evil spirits' ('this stain chills my spine') to Washizu's new home and thence as Asaji is unable to remove its murderous traces. By this latter point, however, both husband and wife have been subsumed by delusional supernatural forces, and even though Washizu is 'brought up short' by the appearance of Miki's ghost at his 'dinner party' he still holds to the mystical prophecy he has received ('how can a forest move?'), oblivious to the fact that even the spirits can be deceived. Throne Of Blood represents Kurosawa at his most straight-faced - moments of (even dark) humour are few and far between, and limited to Washizu's gradual realisation of his folly and the scenes showing Washizu's underlings bantering (which also serve to further develop the film's back-story).
In the end, it is difficult (and unnecessary) to look past Mifune's towering central performance here which, though essentially an unsympathetic one, is, for me, one of his very best, culminating, of course, in one of the most stunning of all cinematic denouements.
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