Throne of Blood (1957): Kurosawa’s Majestic Version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Throne of Blood is Akira Kurosawa’s version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which is his favorite Shakespearean play.

Our Grade: A (***** out of *****)

Surprisingly, the film follows Shakespeare’s original play very closely. It is considered by many critics (not me) to be the best film adaptation ever of a Shakespearean work.

The film relates the story of a warrior who assassinates his sovereign at the urging of his relentlessly ambitious wife.

For Throne of Blood, Kurosawa changed the setting of Macbeth from medieval Scotland to medieval Japan, thus hinting at the historical parallels that prevailed between the two cultures.

Kurosawa once said that “When I look at Japanese history – or the history of the world for that matter – what I see is how man repeats himself over and over again.” Throne of Blood thus evidences Kurosawa’s cautionary view of human history, one in which man destroys himself over and over again. In the Macbeth role, Toshiro Mifune destroys himself and those who love him in a mad quest for power.

Shot in stylized black and white, the film is heavily influenced by the conventions of Japanese Noh theater, including a chorus, which appears on the soundtrack commenting on the plot, the existence of spirits and ghosts, the ritualistic body movements of some of the performers, the make-up and the set designs.

Throne of Blood is a highly original meeting of East and West, as Kurosawa combines Shakespeare with Noh.

Isuzu Yamada plays the female lead role, based on the play’s  Lady Macbeth.

Kurosawa had intended to make his adaptation for years, but delayed its production upon seeing Orson Welles’ 1948 version, Macbeth.

The film was shot around Mount Fuji and Izu Peninsula.

The great Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune gives one of his greatest performances in Throne of Blood. His extended death scene, in which he is the target of a hail of arrows, has become legendary and synonymous with Mifune’s unique style.

About Kurosawa

Kurosawa, originally a painter, had entered the film business at age 26 to support his parents after both his brothers died. He is widely acclaimed as one of the greatest directors of our age.  His films include Rashomon (1951), Ikiru (1952), Throne of Blood (1957), the Oscar winning Dersu Uzala (1975).

Kurosawa would return to Shakespearean adaptations later on in his career, basing his 1985 film Ran on King Lear.

 

Credits:

Music by Masaru Sato
Cinematography by Asakazu Nakai

Edited by Akira Kurosawa

Production and Distributed by Toho Studio
Release date: January 15, 1957 (Japan)
Running time: 110 minutes

Notes Written for ASU Film Society in 1990.

Note:

I am grateful to TCM for allowing me to refresh my memory by showing it on October 7, 2019.