Throne of Blood Reviews
Directed (and co-written) by the famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa and based on William Shakespeare's MacBeth, this is a great adaptation of the classic play. The central plot remains roughly the same but Kurosawa changes the setting, dialogue and sub-plots. Gives it a fresh look without changing the broader story.
Solid direction by Kurosawa and a commanding performance by Toshiro Mifune (Kurosawa's go-to guy for many of his movies).
Only thing that prevents this from being an absolutely compelling masterpiece is that, if you know the story of MacBeth, you know how the plot unfolds. This dampens the impact of some of the twists. It also makes some scenes seem overly long and tedious, as you want to get to the good bit you know is coming. Kurosawa did his best to make the plot seem new, but you can't avoid the central plot, which is all MacBeth.
Beautifully filmed, well acted, and exciting, Throne of Blood makes the best adaptation of MacBeth.
The film was written by Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryuzo Kikushima, and Akira Kurosawa. The first three writers have worked with Kurosawa in multiple occasions and some on my currently personal favorite, Rashomon. Throne of Blood was based on a play written by William Shakespeare entitled Macbeth. I have very little knowledge of the works of Shakespeare as it wasn't something that I had the opportunity to study during my school years, though I do know of his work. I am very blind to the story of Macbeth, so I cannot say whether or not this film is faithful to the source material or it just takes fragments or ideas from it and the writers made it their own. So far, this has been the most easiest to tolerate of Shakespeare "based" films as it seems much more accessible and more easier to understand it's characters and their intentions. Though I did find characters simplistic and easy to penetrate, I kind of hoped the writers did a lot more for the protagonist. I think the character would have benefited with a bit more subtle details as throughout the film, everything about the character is found on it's surface. Then again, I have only seen the film once, and maybe I missed something that the writers were trying to project. Throne of Blood explores the ideas of murder, ambition, manipulation, betrayal, and guilt. The film's plot was simplistic but it was more interesting than I thought. Not to say the film's story is excellent by any means but it was entertaining. Throne of Blood's story, like many of Shakespeare's plays, have this heightened drama and characters seems to do things that would eventually hurt themselves. I found certain aspects of it to be really interesting, like the wife's drive for ambition and her ability to manipulate her husband in order to get what she wants, and the guilt both her and Washizu feel as their ambitions rise. I think Throne of Blood was trying to say that one must earn to gain their ambitions rather than gain it through haste and greed, as people may get hurt and at the end it would come back to bite you. The film's dialogue was good but I felt it was a tad bit too frank, with characters seemingly divulging everything about themselves through words rather than their inner expression.
Throne of Blood was directed by Akira Kurosawa and he has made the film during the height of his career. It's definitely a film that a lot of people seem to adore and it is devastating that I cannot join their camp. Kurosawa has proven himself to me already as a great director through his two films Red Beard and Rashomon, exploring ideas of the human soul and how easily it could be corrupted, and also what we must do in order to change this. Throne of Blood on the other hand is much more simplistic and isn't as thematically deep as I hoped it would be. It felt like Kurosawa was more focused on trying to evoke thrills and emotions that leaves us to be entertained rather than something smart and thoughtful. Throne of Blood does at moments, try to be a character study but the film seems to be more preoccupied with it's story instead. The film doesn't move very fast, with some moments that feel a tad bit indulgent. The first act of the film felt a tad bit too stretched for my liking and would have benefited with a bit more haste, or instead gave me something to latch onto and be deeply invested in which he didn't. The second-third act of the film did start to move things along as we started to see the heightened drama that made the film pretty fun to watch. I was impressed with the way Kurosawa handled the spiritual or supernatural element of the film. The effects that Kurosawa used on these sequences were definitely entertaining and convincing to see, particularly the "drunk" sequence and the first meeting of the spirit. The director's use of the fog actually gave the story more weight, like as if everything that is happening is through the control of a much powerful being. I was also impressed on the way Kurosawa adapted a Shakespearean story onto a different setting but still attain that quality that are commonly found through Shakespeare's work.
The film's director of photography was Asakazu Nakai, who has also worked on notable films like Ran, Seven Samurai, Ikiru and Red Beard. I was content with the way he shot Throne of Blood, but I cannot help but think it could have been more cinematic. The film did contain the occasional zooms that tries to have the audience be more in tune with it's characters and the camera moved around more than I thought it would, but some shots just feel generic. It would have been nice if there were more unconventional strategies in shooting a particular scene. This is not to say that there weren't any great shots in Throne of Blood. The scenes during the first half of the film between Taketoki and Asaji Washizu, before the complication, was shot really well. Nakai created this style of lighting that created this very minimally lit room as both characters discuss the murder they were about to commit. The scene looked like it took place within a room of a medieval castle, similar to what would be found in "faithful" adaptations of a Shakespeare play, I don't know if this was intentional or not. The scene where Taketoki Washizu was drunk and repeatedly saw visions of his friend, was really well composed. The camera moved and panned very smoothly, following our protagonist; letting us view the spot where the spirit sits through both the perspective our protagonist and the others around him. The scene at the end with the trees were particularly impressive, and had me convinced for a second that they were actually walking trees. Also the fog also gave certain scenes a spiritual look that made the idea of the supernatural very convincing. There were also a couple of time I noticed that Taketoki Washizu was shot directly at the centre of the screen, I think it was to create that sense of ego from the character and how powerful this man has become.
The film's score was composed by Masaru Sato, who like Asakazu Nakai, have worked with the director frequently. I wasn't really wild with his score here, as I felt that the score didn't make any real presence throughout the film. A good score is able to say something about the story or it's characters and either heightening or complementing with the cinematographer's imagery or gain an emotional reaction from it's audience. The score just didn't do anything for me. Though the deep mystical chanting at the start and end of the films were actually pretty good.
Though the film's writing was a bit too shallow for my tastes, I thought the actors did a wonderful job in trying to show more of their characters. The film's protagonist, Taketoki Washizu, was played by Toshiro Mifune. Mifune was quite good in the role, a man who has been corrupted by his wife to become ambitious and untrustworthy. Throughout the film we see the character battling with the demons inside him and this is all due to the actor's facial and body expression. I think his best scene was when he was arguing with his wife the paranoia of the Lord and his best friend trying to betray and kill him. He was also great during the scene where he sees spiritual visions of his best friend, with terror and anger driving his facial emotion and actions. Isuzu Yamada as Lady Asaji Washizu was also impressive. Just the small thing that she does, makes the intentions of her character feel convincing. Minoru Chiaki as Yoshiaki Miki was great in the role but there wasn't enough screen time for the character for me to actually completely praise the actor. Though his scene with Akira Kubo was really well acted.
I can see the qualities that Throne of Blood great and a favorite for many but the problems I had with the film's characters, emphasis on entertainment rather than themes, and underwhelming score really hurt my experience.
Despite being lifted from Shakespeare's Macbeth, the narrative screams shaky uncertainty and instability, as Kurosawa guides us through what is essentially a foggy variety show of sporadic moralising, navel-gazing, sword fights and messenger reports. All of the Kurosawa trademarks are here somewhere, they just never jump out at us, or come together in a way that really reels us in.
However, Throne of Blood isn't without its merits or moments of greatness - Toshiro Mifune, for example, is, in a word, mental. The great samurai actor has to be seen to be believed in his most harrowing will-he-or-won't-he-explode-at-any-moment performance of the lot.