Throne of Blood (1957)

Because, frankly, I’ve been needing to watch Kurosawa again for rather a while (I appear not to have watched any since June last year), and since I’m kind of focusing for the moment on 1001 Movies titles, I picked this. Once again, it’s a film I haven’t seen in years (probably not since the mid-90s), and last saw in a not exactly adequate copy (SBS’ old version again!), and it was pleasant to see it in an actually good version (Criterion again! I’ve actually had the DVD for a few years, just never got around to actually watching)… This, as you presumably know, is Kurosawa’s take on Mr Shakespeare’s Scottish play, which I’ve always loved even if it is, frankly, a slur against the historical MacBeth; however, he doesn’t take the route followed by Grigori Kozintsev in his Hamlet and Lear of using Shakespeare’s own text in translation (apparently two of Kurosawa’s scriptwriters had never even read the Shakespeare play), but instead settles for transposing the overall narrative and dramatic features—with certain changes; Toshiro Mifune’s Washizu is less ambitious than Macbeth and more obviously driven more by Lady Washizu’s temptations, etc—to his favoured setting of late 15th/early 16th century Japan. Similarly, he enhances the telling of the tale with embellishments borrowed from Noh theatre, although Noh is pretty much a blank for me so I’m relying on the DVD to actually educate me as to what those elements are—use of makeup to recall certain Noh character masks, particularly with Mifune and Isuzu Yamada (Lady Washizu), plus use of music, staging, etc. And yet it’s never “theatrical”, it doesn’t feel like a filmed play; indeed, business like the appearance of Miki’s ghost—which is apparently another Noh touch—is managed in a way (moving the camera in to Mifune, then moving back out to show the ghost has manifested in the meantime) that couldn’t be done on stage. Terrific film, and I really like the DVD commentary too for helping me appreciate it that bit more…

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