THRONE OF BLOOD

(Japanese title: Kumonosu jô ["Cobweb Castle"; "Spider Web Castle"])
(1957 - Japan)
With Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Minoru Chiaki, Takashi Shimura, Akira Kubo, Yoichi Tachikawa
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Black and White
Reviewed by JB 

Noh mask is an island      In THRONE OF BLOOD, Kurosawa retells Shakespeare's Macbeth as filtered through the aesthetics of Japanese Nōh drama.  Jettisoning all of Shakespeare's dialogue and placing the action in ancient Japan, the director nevertheless visually captures the essence of the Bard's tragic tale of a warrior brought down by his own ambition. 

     Toshiro Mifune is a vivid, memorable Macbeth (here known as the samurai Washizu), his black beard and permanent scowl making him look like some wild animal of the forest, an impression further solidified by his deep, growling voice.  In keeping with the theatrical nature of the material, Mifune's performance is geared toward the people in the back rows of the theater.  In other Kurosawa films, such as SEVEN SAMURAI, this trait sometimes comes across as hammy (although it was the style wanted by Kurosawa), but here, it is in harmony with the proceedings. Equally memorable is Isuzu Yamada as his wife Asajji.  A disturbing presence throughout the film, she hardly moves a muscle until action is required, yet manages to be a highly effective Lady Macbeth even sitting completely still on on her mat, unemotionally feeding Washizu suggestions on how to consolidate his power.  Her immobile presence is the perfect counterpoint to Mifune's angry, unhinged samurai.

     But as unsettling as she is, not even Lady Asaji can match the creepiness of the Evil Spirit of the Cobweb Forest, Kurosawa's inspired stand-in for Shakespeare's Three Witches.  A toothless, white-haired hag, sitting in her decaying hut, spinning silk while she predicts Washizu's future in a guttural moan, she is literally the stuff that bad dreams are made of and puts to shame some recent CGI horror effects.  She is just one of the elements (fog, lightning, ghosts and music) that make THRONE OF BLOOD one of the most haunting movies I have ever seen.

     THRONE OF BLOOD ends with an incredible and violent sequence (which may have been the inspiration for the bloody climax of Brian DePalma's SCARFACE) in which Washizu, like Macbeth, learns the hard way that following the advice of ghosts is not usually conducive to a long and happy life.

     THRONE OF BLOOD falls short of a full five stars owing to Kurosawa' occasionally regrettable tendency to let some scenes play out for a longer time than they are worth.  Otherwise, it ranks with the finest movie adaptations of The Bard of Avalon. ½ - JB

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PROPS TO ANOTHER REVIEWER

"Typecasting is not necessarily a bad thing. Knowing that of all roles, Christopher Walken's forté is as 'the villain' doesn't mean he isn't good in different roles, just as we know that Robin Williams will always be most famous for his comedy. In the same way, though Toshirô Mifune is a fine dramatic actor in every film he's in, his best roles are those of rage-filled sword-wielding maniacs, or at the very least, they're the performances that are the most recognized of his career." - filmsquish.com review of Throne of Blood

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