Throne of Blood (1957)

Throne of Blood (1957), directed by Akira Kurosawa.

The famous samurai Macbeth, made with the director's characteristic style and vivid imagery. Often misty and drizzling, rich in dark and tangled woods. (Lady Macbeth: "Hell is murky"). This is more stylized than his other films, drawing on scenes from Japanese mythology and the old Noh dance theater.

I suspect much of this is lost on modern audiences. Like me. For example, according to the commentary, each character's makeup is based on known mask types. The Lady Macbeth part: "woman who is about to go mad".

Despite the stylization and many departures from the text, this is good Shakespeare, particularly fine in presenting the sickness of ambition and paranoia, the dread of supernatural agencies that toy with human lives, and the classic theme of fulfilling an awful fate by trying to avoid it.

Instead of the witches we have a forest demon, singing a dreadful little song about the secrets of human destiny:


Strange is the world. Why should men receive life in this world? Men's lives are meaningless as the lives of insects.

The terrible folly of such suffering. A man lives but as briefly as a flower, destined all too soon to decay into the stink of flesh. Humanity strives all its days to sear its own flesh in the flames of base desire, exposing itself to Fate's Five Calamities, heaping karma upon karma.

All that awaits Man at the end of his travails is the stench of rotting flesh that will yet blossom into flower, its foul odor rendered into sweet perfume.

Oh, fascinating the life of Man. Oh, fascinating.

Strong female roles are relatively rare in Kurosawa but this is the story to introduce one, with the noblewoman who poisons her husband's mind. They both go mad, conspiring in that blood-stained room.

The massive arrow attack on Toshiro Mifune at the end: no tricks involved, just real marksmen firing real arrows at him. "That's why I look terrified", he said.

Much charging about to little purpose. I feel sorry for the horses, having their heads jerked back and forth during some dialogue scenes.

Criterion Blu-ray with a knowledgeable commentary track.