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Arts & Culture

Throne of Blood

Throne of Blood opens and closes in fog as if the heavy mist provided a secret portal transporting the play from Scotland to Japan. Although

Throne of Blood translates Shakespeares play into Japanese and transplants it to feudal Japan, filmmaker Akira Kurosawa keeps much of the imagery intact. Nature rises up against the deeds of Washizu/Macbeth; order turns to chaos; and blood remains a vivid symbol. Appropriately, Kurosawa gives the film a very formal structure: four acts, each opening with chorus of lower characters, and with a sense of a circular narrative. Kurosawa endows these early scene with visual symmetry as well. This formal approach reflects the orderly society that Washizu is about to violently disrupt. Visually, Kurosawa also keeps Shakespeare's blood imagery vividly alive. When the king arrives at Washizu's castle, the guest forces his host to stay in the forbidden room where a cowardly traitor killed himself and the blood is boldly splashed across the wall as a harbinger of what's to come.

The great Toshiro Mifune in Throne of Blood (Janus)


Kurosawa's film adaptation reveals how universal Shakespeares themes are. But Kurosawa does offer his own interpretation of those themes. The films alternate title is Spiders Web Castle and that signals Kurosawas particular take on Shakespeares troubled protagonist. Kurosawa makes his Macbeth a man caught more in a web of fate and unable to escape. Fate paints Washizu into a corner and in that respect this is a darker, more nihilistic imagining of the play.

Another change Kurosawa makes is to have Lady Asaji (the Lady Macbeth character) be pregnant. In the play, Macbeth is troubled that his line will die out and all that he has done will ultimately will benefit others who will take the throne after him. When Kurosawa explained this idea to Laurence Olivier at one point, Olivier replied that the child should be born deformed. This idea apparently offended Kurosawa who reportedly ceased communication with Olivier.

You wont find Shakespeare language in Kurosawa's film (which is not to say that there isn't poetry), and Kurosawa often lets scenes play out with barely a word of dialogue yet scenes are vividly rendered. Instead of iambic pentameter, the rustling of Asajis/Lady Macbeths silk robes or the thunder of hooves set the rhythms and pace of this tragedy. In fact, in the scene where Lady Asaji leaves a room and disappears into the darkness to get sake to make the guards drunk, the ominous rustling of her silk gown is as chilling as Lady Macbeth's lines. Kurosawa also employs elements of the stylized Japanese Noh Theater in bringing his Macbeth to life. He uses sparse staging and mask-like visages of the actors in interior scenes, and then contrasts this with frantic action outside. And Macbeth is, after all, a study in contrasts. Macbeth acts on the witches prophecies, Banquo doesnt. The order of society contrasts with the chaos that reigns after Macbeth defies nature and kills the king.

A bit of trivia: Kurosawa wanted actor Toshiro Mifune to look genuinely scared in the final battle and achieved this by shooting real arrows at him. The scene was carefully choreographed and the Takada School of Archery provided the sharp-eyed archers. Kurosawas use of a telephoto lens compresses the action so Mifune looks to be in even more danger than he was.

Companion viewing: Polanski's Macbeth; Scotland, PA ; Ran -----