The greatest director in arguably all of Japan was Akira Kurosawa, a director known for his unique story telling and influence on Western directors from Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Robert Altman and for changing the way audiences saw cinema. Kurosawa was known for being hands on in all aspects of filmmaking and being quite the perfectionist. To get a sense of Kurosawa for a first time watcher of his work, Throne of Blood seems to be the least obvious yet clear choice since I only read about the famous scene of real arrows being shot at actor Toshiro Mifune and nothing more. Luckily, this film is less about flying arrows nearly killing an actor and more about a new adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play, Macbeth. Let’s head to Japan one last time to cover a masterpiece.
1957’s Kumonosu-jo or Spider Web Castle, known to Westerners as Throne of Blood, takes the Bard’s work and makes a clever retelling filled with all the wonders of mischievous spirits and betrayal of kingdoms that the original had in Feudal Japan.
Takeoki Washizu, played by Toshiro Mifune, and his partner Yoshiaki Miki, played by Minoru Chiaki, wanders into the Spider Web Forest on their way to their Great Lord Kunimaru Tsuzuki’s, played by Hiroshi Tachikawa, castle and see a Forest spirit telling them the prophecy to unfold. Washizu will be named the master of North Castle whereas Miki will be the leader of Fortress One. The spirit also foretells that one Washizu will rule the Forest Castle with Miki’s son to rule soon after. For those that know MacBeth, this will probably be all too familiar, but the retelling works every without knowing anything. This bring us to my next point.
BUT FOR THOSE NOT IN THE KNOW!
Washizu is basically Lord MacBeth who returns to his wife Asaji, played by Isuzu Yamada, tells her of the prophecy which makes her go ‘Fuck it, let’s make this come true’ and just like her batshit insane self, plots out the murder of Tsuzuki when he come and to frame others in order for Washizu to get the Web Castle, which actually is not a Web and is quite disappointing that is not. That is besides the point because soon Washizu goes coo-coo for Cocoa Puffs as well to makes sure the others do not fufill the prophecy and he retains his throne (which is sadly, not of blood. Did know one know how to title this damn thing?). Asaji is pregnant, pops out said kid, kid dies and Miki son is now dead, proving in no point of doing that shit. Spirits and witches haunt and tuant him for his misery. His armies attack the other fortresses, but they retreat as the forest moves to attack. The next of Washizu’s death is quite badass as he dodge real fuckin’ arrow to make sure he does not go out like Biggie and Tupac, but still dies.
Cue ominous fog and chanting to end a magnificent film.
Throne of Blood is a true cinematic art piece, but it may not be for everyone. Those who are not viewers of classic black and white cinema may find it a bit boring and drag on for too long (and for those who hate subtitles, prepare for tons of reading). I personally do not mind it, but at times, I did get a bit lost only due to, well, me being a bit sleepy while watching this film. Sometimes, sleep can make us weaker than we should be.
The film has set-pieces that are unbelievable, even by 1957’s standards from the mysterious castle appearing out of the fog to the stunning moving forest scenes. The use of lighting and makeup to capture the spirits by Kurosawa is impressive by highlighting the out of this world element they encapsulate. Kurosawa’s direction is astounding using the size and scale of his shots in order to tell a visually compelling story and never missing a beat.
Toshiro Mifune does a hell of an amazing job with his performance showing the decline of a nervous man about his fate to a man corrupted by his own power and pride and growing delusional. Even toward the end of the film when he is laughing and jesting about everything until his final stand against his enemy, you can see the nervousness still intact and slowly coming back. Also, any actor that is willing to be shot at by real arrows by choreographed archers is pretty damn awesome in my book. The supporting cast is good as well with Isuzu Yamada’s crazed wife Asaji being both supportive and deranged by the fortune of Washizu. The score by Masaru Sato helps capture the nature and growth of the story with classic music stings when the plot starts to thicken. The music throughout also capture the sense that the supernatural is always lurking around with the ominious chanting that start the film and book end it.
Probably cliched to say it at this point, but Kurosawa made a masterpiece and we all know it. Hell, The Criterion Collection practically has every damn film of his ready to add to any hipster’s film collection. Throne of Blood may not have a literal throne of blood, but it is a classic of cinema nonetheless.
This Saturday, we leave Japan to head back to San Francisco for the Thanksgiving weekend. Sadly, there are not of Thanksgiving films out there, but fortunately, to hang with truck driver Jack Burton to help find his pal Wang Chi find his fiancee in Little China or Chinatown to most folks. Hell yes, we are finally headed into fun ass kicking territory again with the John Carpenter cult classic, Big Trouble in Little China starring one of my actors, Kurt Russell.
Film A Week 47: Big Trouble in Little China (1986)
Saturday, November 30th