Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Throne of Blood

(Spider Web Castle, Kumonosu-jō, Japan, 1957)

Akira Kurosawa is my favorite Japanese director, and among my favorite directors of any ethnicity. I have seen every one of his movies that is available on video (which is almost all of them), though I watched most of them before I started writing these reviews. He made a few (a very few) stinkers, like everyone but Kubrick does, and he made a lot of very, very good films, and an amazing number of masterpieces. This one falls into the second category, in my opinion. It is the first time he made a Japanese version of a Shakespeare play, in this case, MacBeth. Later he made The Bad Sleep Well, based on Hamlet, and one of his very best, Ran, which was King Lear in a kimono.

It stars the great Toshiro Mifune, and he is absolutely mesmerizing, as always. You know the basic plot. I’ve never seen Birnam Wood advancing on MacBeth’s castle in a more menacing way, in any of the film adaptations I’ve seen. The three witches are replaced by a single white phantom with a spinning wheel … shades of Sleeping Beauty! And the climactic scene … well, it is stunning. Mifune sees the woods advancing on him, goes crazy, and his men turn against him, firing arrows at him. Before long he looks like a friggin’ porcupine, but he won’t die! Flights of arrows hiss by and into him like swarms of bees, and he still won’t die. And what is amazing is that it was all real arrows (until the last one, which goes through his throat). Mifune had to stand there and hope that Kurosawa had hired the best archers in Japan, and he had to use unobtrusive signals to tell the archers which way he was about to go. Just riveting. Amazing!