Friday, May 10, 2013

Throne of Blood

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Akira Kurosawa's retelling of Shakespeare's Macbeth is a haunting, pulsing folklore -- an adaptation above and beyond all other adaptations, Shakespearean or otherwise. ★★★★

Toshiro Mifune stars as General Washizu, the man who will inherit Spider's Web Forest castle after assassinating Lord Tsuzuki--an ascension prophesied by the Forest Spirit, a white-haired, white-faced, ghostly creature shrouded in foggy white light under a straw hut, eerily spinning a spinning wheel. However, she also prophesies that fellow general Miki's son will inherit power after Washizu's rule. Washizu's unassuming, cunning wife Asaji convinces him to murder Miki and his son (soon to be named heir by Washizu), for she is finally with child and will bear him an heir. Washizu succeeds in murdering Miki--but his son escapes.

Mifune is at his best in Throne of Blood. His crazy eyes and wild brow come to life in an emotionally horrifying scene in which Washizu sees the spirit forest sitting at the place set for the absent, soon-to-be-murdered Miki. Stomping around the room in horror and disbelief, he flails, striking at a spirit only he can see with his samurai sword. Mifune portrays Washizu's descent into guilt-ridden madness with incomparable intensity--Shakespeare would have been proud.

Kurosawa sets Throne of Blood in a parallel universe to that of Macbeth. Medieval Japan seems hardly different from Macbeth's medieval. Though, with stylistic injections of Noh theatre, such as choral chanting that introduce certain scenes, and high-shouldered, ornately patterned costumes, Kurosawa truly takes Shakespearean theatre to Japan while preserving the magical Japanese traditional flares that only Kurosawa could bring to life.

Throne of Blood is often referred to as the greatest Shakespearean adaptation of all time, and I'd be remiss to think a well-crafted argument against that sentiment would be beneficial--or accurate. Most say Seven Samurai or Rashomon are the best introductions to Kurosawa--they are classics, believe me--but I respectfully disagree. Throne of Blood--from it's chilling Forest Spirit to the wonderfully how-the-hell-did-he-do-that scene in which the trees advance upon the castle--is Kurosawa's masterpiece, a pillar in film history's pantheon of greats.

About the Author

Ian Tilman Nichols

Author & Editor

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