Tuesday, December 4, 2012

CLASSIC or ANTIQUE? Throne of Blood

                “Throne of Blood” was released in 1957 in black and white.  It is the retelling of MacBeth by acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa.  It was originally entitled “Spider Web Castle”.  (“Oh what a tangled web we weave…”)  The film opens with a foggy view of the destroyed castle, but when the fog lifts the castle is intact – what a nifty way to flash back!  Two generals named Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki have just defeated an invasion.  They get lost in “Spider’s Web Forest”, naturally.  They encounter an evil spirit which predicts that Washizu will become ruler and pass the throne on to Miki’s son. After an extended silly period of riding back and forth, they return to Lord Tzusuki castle and are shocked to be promoted just as the spirit said.

                Washizu’s wife Asaji (Isuzu Yamada) is a creepy schemer.  She encourages Washizu to preemptively kill Tzusuki before he finds out about the prophecy (from Miki).  Guess who’s coming to dinner?  The camera stays on Asaji as Washizu goes off to do the deed.  When he returns with a bloody spear, she puts it with the guards who she had slipped a mickey to in order to shift the blame.  Next up her big sleeved kimono is to remove Miki and his son.  She lies and tells Washizu that she is pregnant.  This unhinges Washizu who hosts a banquet for Miki where he proceeds to hallucinate the appearance of Miki’s ghost and then proceeds to try to kill it.  Could he look more guilty?

                The chickens come home to roost as Washizu’s enemies approach his castle.  Washizu visits the spirit to get a prophecy update and is assured that he cannot be defeated unless the trees of the forest attack him.  Washizu boosts the morale of his men with this guarantee of victory.  He returns home to find Asaji feverishly trying to wash bloodstains off her hands.  Oh. well, at least there is no chance of trees attacking.  Oops!  Here comes the forest.  (Actually the enemy has cut down trees and is using them for cover.)  This is the last straw for Washizu’s fed-up garrison.  They pelt him with a barrage of arrows until one goes through his neck and he dies looking like a pin cushion.

                The movie is bizarrely interesting.  It bears the marks of Kurosawa’s genius and attention to detail.  He filmed much of it on the slopes of Mount Fuji.  It is a very foggy movie.  There are a lot of shots through the branches of trees which I am sure has some point to it because the cinematography has been lauded.  Most impressively, the arrows fired at (but not hitting) Mifune are actual arrows fired by archers .  Mifune’s movements were choreographed and he waved his arms to show the archers which direction he was heading in next.  This death scene is one of the most remarkable in movie history.

                The acting is top notch, especially Mifune and Yamada.  The plot is Shakepearean with a Japanese twist. One twist is the spare dialogue.  Kurosawa plants the MacBeth plot in Fifteenth Century Japan during the period called Sengoku Jidai (“The Age of the Country at War”).  This era of political chaos featured wars between rival clans marked by treachery and assassinations.  He also blends in elements of Noh Theater like the flutish music, bare sets, and the formalized performances.  It is a fascinating film, but not really a war movie.  Classic or antique?  Definitely a classic.



1.   Seven Samurai
2.   Yojimbo
3.   Ran
4.  Throne of Blood
5.   Kagemusha

the trailer

riding in the forest


  1. I think I've seen this a long time ago. In my Kurosawa phase. I think you've watched of a few of his movies by now, didn't you? I still have two to watch, RAN and Kagemusha but I need to b in the mood. It such different filmmaking, you can't compare it with anything else. But interesting and captivating.

  2. Your comment inspired me to add my rankings of the Kurosawa war films. See above.

  3. Good review. I wonder if I read up on Noh theater I would better understand what was going on with Washizu's creepy wife.

    In both cases the story portrays the main character with sympathy but makes clear that he is making bad life choices. The flow of the film is tight and the imagery is great. I would put it above Yojimbo (though I'm not sure if it beats Ran), but acknowledge that those top four would cluster fairly close to each other in any case.

    The movie does have a strange feel to it, but then so does Macbeth. Fortunately, neither the movie no Shakespeare's play are too bizarre to follow.


Please fell free to comment. I would love to hear what you think and will respond.