Throne Of Blood has proven to be the best Kurosawa film I've seen yet. It's gritty, tense and one the most well structured films that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing.
It was for this very reason that I decided to buy Throne Of Blood when I was trying to decide on which Kurosawa film to see next. You see, I hated Shakespeare when I was in high school, but this was mainly because I felt I was supposed to hate his work. Now I'm an adult, and a lack of attention in high school has meant that I can no longer remember very much from Shakespeare's plays. Yet one of the things I remember from Macbeth was that it was a huge story, full of betrayal, revenge and murder. Trying to imagine doing these same themes, only with my favorite director behind the camera, and samurai replacing English men seemed like an opportunity not to be missed.
Now I know that going in with the expectations that it couldn't possibly go wrong is usually a recipe for disaster, but Throne Of Blood has mercifully exceeded my expectations. Set in 16th century feudal Japan it tells the story of 2 Samurai Warriors who are given an audience with the lord. However on their way to see him they get lost in the woods when a dense, supernatural fog envelops them. In the midst of this fog they find a malevolent spirit that foretells their future for them. It tells that the first man Taektoki Wahsizu will take up the throne, but that he will be superseded by the son of the second man Miki. Taektoki is initially disgusted at the idea and tries to kill the spirit, but when he gets home and tells his wife the tale, her own ambitions cause her to push him into the act of assassinating the Lord. This begins an epic tale of Betrayal, murder and revenge that can only end in one way.
With Throne Of Blood Kurosawa has proven himself to be as adept at adapting classic literature as he is at producing original work worthy of being adapted. He has managed to remain very faithful to the source material (from what I can remember of course) but has updated it just enough that it fits in with the new setting. The most obvious example is found in the character of Lady Asaji Washizu. Isuzu Yamada (Yojimbo) perfectly embodies the ambitious lady Macbeth character, but still remembers that she is playing a different character. She portrays the elements of frustration that the character feels toward her womanhood, but does it in a more subtle way, using a tone of voice that would be deemed suitable for a Japanese wife of the times.
Though she's been totally overshadowed by an outstanding performance by Akira Kurosawa mainstay, Toshiro Mifune. I've always been very impressed with Mifune, and from the films I've seen so far he's become one of my favorite actors. Yet he has somehow exceeded himself in Throne Of Blood and made me respect him even more. In the past I've seen Mifune succeed in a variety of different roles including Comic (Yojimbo), honorable (The Hidden Fortress) and dangerous (Rashomon), yet what was most impressive was that he always seemed to bring a little of each style to the roles he played. In Throne Of Blood he really epitomizes the style that he's used throughout his career. He imbues Taektoki with a deep sense of honour, that brings guilt over his actions. Yet Mifune's natural screen presence gives the character a real edge. Though there's not many comic moments in Throne Of Blood, when they are used they fit perfectly into the narrative instead of feeling like comic relief. The moment most evident is when the spirit appears to Taektoki at a dinner, and Mifune uses his exaggerated mannerisms to convince the audience that the character is being driven insane with fear.
That's the tone set by this film though. It's a film that uses many of Kurosawa's trademarks but does them in a much more subtle, impressive way. For example the cinematography is more down to earth, and harder to spot. Yet look hard enough and it's evident that careful thought went into this aspect of the film. Kurosawa uses a steady cam for many of the films frames, and this gives the proceedings a much more theatrical feel. Yet for the real flash you need to look beyond the surface, and into the little background details. Throughout the film Kurosawa places something to portray circular movement, such as a horse running around in circles when Taektoki and Asaji are talking, or Taektoki's constant habit of walking in circles. This highlights that Shakespeare's circular structure is unchanged. That no matter what Taektoki does, his fate is sealed.
Though it was Kurosawa's atmospheric use of sound that I found to be most effective. He only uses background music in a select few scenes, but makes some of the best use of background noise I have ever seen. Some scenes use natural sounds, such as the wind, to produce a believable world brimming with political upheaval. Yet Kurosawa will suddenly introduce unnatural sounds, such as the horrible laugh of the spirit, that tears the films world upside down and goes from tense to just plain scary.
Before Throne Of Blood I had seen 4 Kurosawa films, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Rashomon and The Hidden Fortress and I've described them all as masterpieces. Yet Throne Of Blood has proven to be the best Kurosawa film I've seen yet. It's gritty, tense and one the most well structured films that I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. I'm afraid that means I'm going to have to use the M word again though.