Considered as one of the best film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, Akira Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” is mesmerizing and unlike many of the films he has created in his notable oeuvre during that time.
While creating a film adaptation of “Macbeth” has always been a dream and goal for Kurosawa, but before the making of “Throne of Blood”, it was important for him to use modern film-making techniques in making a jidai film.
According to Donald Richie, author of “The Films of Akira Kurosawa”, Akira Kurosawa called “Throne of Blood” an “experiment”. That the film is “a finished film with no loose ends. The characters have no future. Cause and effect is the only law. Freedom does not exist”.
Akira Kurosawa also utilizes Japanese Noh (a musical drama that has been performed in Japan since in the 13th century) and it can be seen in various characters such as the songs of the mysterious forest spirit, the movement of the characters in how they sit and stand, especially the movements of Lady Washizu. But it was important to showcase his appreciation of the movement of characters in Noh and to utilize it for his film “Throne of Blood”.
But not just with movement, as for those who see a Noh mask showing the face of a demon, the way that Lady Washizu’s face was created to look like a Noh mask and her movements are genuinely creepy.
Also, for Kurosawa’s adaptation of “Macbeth”, there are some distinctions that make this film Japanese. For Japanese culture, where ghosts are seen as vengeful spirits in Western cinema, in Japanese culture, they are seen as embodiments of nature that are neither good or evil.
But a major distinction is the character of General Washizu, he is not the main motivation to ensure the prophecy becomes true. He does not want to kill his Lord to usurp the throne, nor does he want to kill his good friend to ensure his family’s future. His actions are due to his wife’s actions and he acts upon it because she is the catalyst. He is a man that is compulsive but also a man who is fearful, a man who has a guilty conscience and is consumed by guilt of what he must due to become the lord of the castle.
Another fascinating aspect of “Throne of Blood” is where the film was shot. The castle exteriors and forest scenes were shot on the popular volcano, Mt. Fuji. High up in the area, aided by the US military in cleaning up the area for the film to be shot, Kurosawa wanted to capture the look of the area due to its volcanic ash, mountainous landscape but most importantly, to get the feeling of dread with real fog being captured on camera.
While the interiors were shot at Toho, but volcanic ash from Mt. Fuji was taken to the studio to resemble the area.
But perhaps the most amazing scene was the arrows action scene which involved real arrows being shot at a character. Precision shooting (arrows used needles that were a little thicker than needles used for a record player), use of a wire and for the most part, creating one of the most amazing action scenes in a Kurosawa film.
Overall, “Throne of Blood” is one of the more visually powerful films from Akira Kurosawa. Each shot is mesmerizing, may it be a focus on a character, their legs or among a large crowd of people, we are captivated by this story of samurai but also an incorporation of the supernatural. It’s efficacy of adapting “MacBeth” for a Japanese film, incorporating Noh elements, is mesmerizing but also with a permeating creepy atmosphere.
Another magnificent film in already an outstanding oeuvre from Akira Kurosawa, “Throne of Blood” is highly recommended!