Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Throne of Blood

Every country has one director who, according to cinemaphiles, is the best representation of the region's film making.  Italy has Dario Argento, and Japan has Akira Kurosawa.  Kurosawa's films, much like Argento's, have inspired directors all over the world, and one of his best films is Throne of Blood, the English title of Kumonosu-jō, the translation of which is actually Spider Web Castle.

Throne of Blood, like many of the films Kurosawa is known for, is a samurai film.  It's not your ordinary samurai film, however.  No, this one is based on Macbeth.  If you're wondering how well Shakespeare's work can translate when the characters are thrown into feudal Japan, I can tell you.

Damn good.

If you've seen Throne of Blood it is doubtful you'll ever forget its images.  The fog.  Those eerily moving trees.  The ghost.  One scene that has always stuck in my mind was the death of Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), which is the Macbeth role.  Washizu is killed by his own archers in a scene that had me wondering just how it was pulled off.  To me, it looked like those were real arrows being shot at him and sticking into the walls next to his terrified body.  But, of course, this was movie making, and while the special effects weren't spectacular in 1957, I knew they could be used to create a scene where it looks like real arrows are being shot at an actor.

Except in this scene it was real arrows being shot at an actor.  The look of fright on Mifune's face?  Real.  Brilliant.  Can you imagine how you would feel if your director told you, "Oh yeah, we're shooting real arrows at you.  Action!"

To quote Sid Haig as Captain Spaulding, "Shit the bed!"

I'm not a fan of Shakespeare, but I do like Macbeth.  I like this film even more, though.  In my opinion, it actually works better than Shakespeare's work.  It's moodier, the language works better, and it is, quite honestly, more interesting.  I find Shakespeare's work to be overrated, despite the oft cited cultural significance.  Much like The Beatles, people think they should like Shakespeare, so they say they do.

Kurosawa was a master.  This, like Seven Samurai and Ran, was one of his masterpieces.  Fifty years from now this film and its director will still be inspiring filmmakers whether directly or indirectly (like those who get their inspiration from George Lucas, who was heavily influenced by Kurosawa).  There are only a handful of directors who can claim that, and Throne of Blood shows why Kurosawa is one of them.

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