on 19 December 2003
A great deal has been made of the fact that THRONE OF BLOOD (also known as SPIDER'S WEB CASTLE) is drawn from one of Shakespeare's most celebrated plays. This is both a blessing and a curse, for while it gives western audiences a point of reference, it also invites all sorts of comparisons that viewers familiar with the Shakespeare play feel honor-bound to make--and that can get in the way of seeing the film as it is rather than what we expect it to be. And that would be a great pity, because what it is in and of itself is quite fine indeed.
The cast is a very strong ensemble, with frequent Kurosawa star Torshiro Mifune leading the film with a remarkably fine performance as the ambitious warrior Taketori Washizu. To my mind, however, the most memorable performance is offered by Isuzu Yamada as Lady Washizu--who plays the role with a demonic stillness that cracks into physical action only when she is completely sure of herself or in utter desperation. It is one of the most disturbing characterizations I have ever encountered.
As usual in any Kurosawa film, the imagery involved is extremely powerful, and the moody tone of the film quickly draws viewers in--and once ensnared there is no escape; the film holds your attention with considerable ease throughout. Even so, I would not recommend THRONE OF BLOOD to western audiences who have never seen a Kurosawa film, for it is so completely Japanese in aesthetic that some may find it hard to grasp. It is best seen after you are already familiar with both Kurosawa's work and Japanese cinema in general.
The Criterion DVD is quite good, with a nicely restored transfer and bonus features that include the original trailer, a choice of subtitle translations (I prefer the Hoagland translation), and a somewhat awkward but ultimately rewarding commentary track by Michael Jeck. If you're a Kurosawa fan and you've never seen THRONE OF BLOOD, this is your opportunity; if you're looking to replace an existing video with a DVD, this one is likely as good as it gets. Strongly recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on 26 June 2004
Throne of Blood is one of those Shakespeare adaptations which is not a simple retelling but a superb Japanese story of the lust for power and the rewards it reaps. Kurosawa was inspired by Noh theatre, hence some of the make up and scenes. His use of black and white imagery is strong in this film - he really is the master. Of course, the best scene remains Toshiro Mifune in his castle being attacked, with arrows flying into the wall right beside him. Look close - that's real fear. Kurosawa had champion archers firing real arrows at poor old Mifune. All in the name of good cinema.
on 19 November 2001
Kurosawa has never failed to impress me and this is yet again pure genius.
Mifune is as ever showing how to be a great actor and for me the best ever so far.
The techniques and style adopted into the making of this masterpiece are executed with such force, proves that this is the best ever rendition of Macbeth. And as if that wasn't enough we are treated to perhaps the most tense 5 minutes ever filmed in cinema history. The last moments of this film are breath-taking. A scene that should be hailed as one of the greatest ever filmed. it is just pure genius.
on 6 October 2010
The version being sold by Amazon UK, which is published by the British Film Institute, doesn't seem to be the one reviewed in every case. For example, there is no choice of English subtitles, which one reviewer mentions. The actual BFI one, although acceptable, looks as if it's taken from a 'dupe' print. The black and white photography is extremely important to this film, but some of the detail is lost. A blu-ray version taken from the original negative would reveal an enormous amount, I believe.
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.
It is a while, I'll admit, since I either read Shakespeare's 'Scottish play' (schooldays!) or indeed saw Jon Finch's 1971 big screen depiction and in the meantime I had forgotten just how dark and unremittingly bleak its atmosphere and narrative is, but as a potent reminder this 1957 Kurosawa interpretation leaves one in no doubt. Nevertheless, it is (of course) one of Kurosawa's most visually stunning works (and that's saying something) with as many standout set-pieces as pretty much anything by the Japanese master, whilst also showcasing an all-consuming, bravura performance from the director's 'muse', Toshiro Mifune, as the misguided megalomaniac, samurai warrior, Washizu.
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.
Directed by Akira Kurosawa with himself and William Shakespeare (and others) credited in the writing credits of this DVD of the 1957 film "Throne of Blood", it shows the integrity of the man willing to acknowledge Shakespeare as an original source, an approach not always adopted by modern writers and filmmakers. However, it also poses a problem for western audiences almost complelling them to look for "the Shakespeare" in this deeply Japanese film. This approach is unfortunate, to say the least, because it often immures them from the Japanese culture, occasionally even seeing it as a hindrance to seeing the Shakespeare, leaving them disappointed.
Kurosawa (1910-1998) was undoubtedly one of the greatest filmmakers of all times, directing thirty films in his fifty-seven year career, all of which have his trademark direction, i.e. multiple cameras, long lenses, deep focus, unusual angles, fast-editing and the film's graininess. He also edited his own films and saw this as the really creative aspect.
This "Macbeth" inspired, intensely Japanese film is one of Kurosawa's best but it is best to view it as that, a deep insight into Japanese culture rather than a Shakespearean re-make. The DVD has a few bonus features.
on 4 August 2010
I've been a Kurosawa fan for some time, but had never seen Throne OF Blood before. I bought this expecting great things having read the previous reviews - however - I was surprised that no-one had mentioned how poor the sound quality was; there is a continual sound of eggs and bacon frying loudly in the background. I know enough about film restoration to know that cleaning up an old soundtrack is fairly straightforward with current technology, but I don't know if this poor sound is peculiar to the bfi edition which I bought. Many of the previous reviewers seem to have reviewied the US Criterion version which I assume must have better sound quality otherwise it would have been mentioned in the reviews. As for the movie - well it's great, slow, but then so is the Shakespeare play on which it is based, but none the worse for that. Four stars only though due to the shamefully noisy soundtrack.
Akira Kurosawa’s masterpiece is a stylish, theatrical study of power, control, paranoia, ambition, and guilt. Set in feudal Japan it mirrors Shakespeare’s Macbeth where a fearless warrior embarks upon a doomed path of betrayal and murder, subtly prompted by his devious wife. Toshiro Mifune gives a towering intense performance as Samurai general Washizu (think Pacino turned up to eleven) while Isuzu Yamada plays Lady Asaji with an unemotional menace which is truly chilling. The black and white cinematography is simply stunning – the swirling fog, driving rain, bleak moorland and labyrinthine forest all contribute to the ethereal tenor of the film while the sparse interior scenes within the castles leave us in no doubt that these brutal events are the consequence of human decisions. Washizu’s death at the end of the film is as impressively disturbing as any scene I have watched in a film.
on 11 September 2000
A brilliant retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth in terms of Medieval Japan. Kurosawa manages to sort out Shakespeare's plotting (which is famously dodgy in the case of Lady Macbeth), with a shocking and psychologically credible twist. Closer to the inspirational play than Ran is to King Lear, but not much. A must for those with the patience to travel to this culturally and chronologically distant setting. The pace is rather slow.
on 18 December 2009
The dvd didn't like to play subtitles on the pc dvd player but once I played it on my main dvd player it gave me all selections and options. The film was very clear and the quality of the complete package was as advertised. I am a big fan of everything Japanese/film/culture, and the samurai period more than most. This film did not dissapoint, it was fast action, plenty of sub plots and some epic fighting scenes, well worth the purchase price.