After astounding Western film critics with Rashomon and Seven Samurai in the early Fifties, the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa confused everyone with his interpretation of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Not only did he avoid the Bard's words, but insisted that his actors perform in a Noh style, making them look decidedly odd.

It was a brave move that didn't work at the time. Toshiro Mifune had become an international star after Seven Samurai and here he was behaving in the most bizarre manner, making faces and stomping about like an escaped lunatic. Surely, Macbeth was a sensible fellow before Lady M talked him into killing his boss, after which power went to his head. Washizu in Throne Of Blood appears unhinged from the start and when Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), Kurosawa's version of Lady M, speaks poison into his ear against his best friend (Minoru Chiaki), the Banquo clone, there's no going back.

Once you have acclimatised to the style, this a film of stunning visual imagery, not least in the final death scene, which remains in the annals of movie history, unforgettable. Castle Cobweb, the Japanese equivalent of Duncan's pad, is a long low compound on the desolate slopes of Mount Fuji. Mist swirls, wind blows, voices cry out against the elements. The way these guys ride, you worry about the welfare of the horses.

The three witches is one (Chieko Naniwa), a figure of indeterminate sex, whose voice appears to come from somewhere else. The murders occur off screen. Asaji is dressed in kimono and her face is like a mask. She is, without doubt, the most fearful and effective baddie.

The overall impression is of men on horseback, flags, armour, strange headgear. The interiors are minimal, the comprehension of events patchy. Mifune has an energy that cannot be contained. Macbeth was never this mad. Or so electrifying.

Reviewed on: 31 Oct 2001
Share this with others on...
Throne Of Blood packshot
The Scottish play transposed to a misty compound on the desolate slopes of Mount Fuji.
Amazon link

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Writer: Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, based on Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Minoru Chiaki, Akira Kubo, Takashi Shimura, Takamaru Sasaki, Yoichi Tachikawa, Cheiko Naniwa

Year: 1957

Runtime: 104 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Japan

Festivals:


Search database: