HMWYBS 708: Throne of Blood

Another first time viewing for me!

I’m not as familiar with Kurosawa as I’d like, but I’m already annoyed whenever I see his name these last few days because I missed out on the opportunity to see Ran in 4K in two different cities! First it played in NYC while I was in Cleveland, and now I find out it’ll be playing in Cleveland when I go back to NYC. Booooooo.

That being said, Macbeth is probably my favorite Shakespeare, so I couldn’t stay mad.
Throne of Blood’s main claim to fame is that it completely abandons all the poetry that makes Shakespeare, well, Shakespearean. I found that the more it diverged from the source material, the more I appreciated it, as originality is the key to a good literary adaptation for the cinema, and we get this in spades.

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I was very tempted to utilize one of the moments early on where the transition Kurosawa uses is a wipe, because wipes don’t get used often enough nowadays and I wanted to pay homage to that. But I couldn’t justify it to myself, so off to the rest of the movie!

Throne of Blood’s most stunning moments are when it does things like trick our Macbeth and Banquo equivalents, Washizu and Miki respectively, via the forest spirit before putting us right in the spot of enduring a long journey by sticking them in the fog. A personal favorite moment is when they run away from the camera and disappear into the fog, because I am unable to resist such a deliciously symbolic gesture. At one point, they look like silhouettes and it is an effect that is fascinating in how effectively the men are reduced, particularly as they do not receive what they desire upon arriving back at the Fortress.

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But at the end of the day, my heart belongs to a specific character in this story:

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Lady Macbeth is perfect for a Kurosawa film, for he was never really a director who cared much about writing for women, but he sure as hell could encourage some great performances. Machiko Kyo in Rashomon is among my shortlist for the most underrated performances ever, and the minute we see Isuzu Yamada as Lady Asaji in this cold spare room, we know exactly where things will go.

She proceeds to give a deliriously seductive vocal performance encouraging Lord Tsuzuki’s murder and sets off the events of the rest of the film, but she doesn’t move an inch while doing it as Toshiro Mifune proceeds to do his slightly hammy act by pacing and spinning around the room even as he sits. This continues a bit longer, but eventually, we do see her move:

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Best Shot

And at that precise moment, there is no turning back, and the prophecy will be forced into truth rather than come about organically, as the power hungriest of the bunch has been forced into action, smiling while she does it.

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2 thoughts on “HMWYBS 708: Throne of Blood

  1. Daniel Bayer

    Love this pick. Yamada is freaking STUNNING as Lady M, easily the most frightening performance of the character ever captured. That icy stillness and warm voice create such a perfect contrast. You’re drawn in to her web immediately and she’s not going to let you go. Until, that is, she looks at her hands…

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