Kurosawa and Shakespeare are a winning combination. With "Throne of Blood," Kurosawa strips Macbeth to the bare bones of plot, then packs on new flesh in the form of scheming ambition in feudal Japan.
In this version, Washizu (Macbeth) is somewhat simple, and content with what comes his way, be it castle or fort, honor or deceit. His wife, the infamous Lady Macbeth, is chillingly calm and dangerous. She has no interest in her husband's contentment, and knows that the only way to advance her position is to advance the position of her husband, by whatever means necessary. Her role as the spider is particularly suited to the halls of the Cobweb Castle.
The acting and filming are up to the quality that one expects from Kurosawa and Mifune. The pacing of the film is full of dynamic contrasts, going from heart-pounding action to patient silence. This film is not spoon-fed to you, but demands your concentration. The visuals are particularly stunning in "Throne of Blood." The cobweb forest is haunting, and the single weird sister, all in white spinning in a white cage, maintains the same chilling calmness of Washizu's wife.
One of the many nice touches of "Throne of Blood" is the chance to see that Samurai at the height of their power. These are not the poor, struggling warriors of "Seven Samurai" or "Yojimbo." Washizu is decked out in full armor for the bulk of the film, and his castle is defended and attacked by well-dressed armies. Each lord is powerful and wields mighty forces.
Oh, and of course, the big finish. All I can say is wow.
A great deal has been made of the fact that THRONE OF BLOOD (also known as SPIDER'S WEB CASTLE) is drawn from one of Shakespeare's most celebrated plays. This is both a blessing and a curse, for while it gives western audiences a point of reference, it also invites all sorts of comparisons that viewers familiar with the Shakespeare play feel honor-bound to make--and that can get in the way of seeing the film as it is rather than what we expect it to be. And that would be a great pity, because what it is in and of itself is quite fine indeed.
The cast is a very strong ensemble, with frequent Kurosawa star Torshiro Mifune leading the film with a remarkably fine performance as the ambitious warrior Taketori Washizu. To my mind, however, the most memorable performance is offered by Isuzu Yamada as Lady Washizu--who plays the role with a demonic stillness that cracks into physical action only when she is completely sure of herself or in utter desperation. It is one of the most disturbing characterizations I have ever encountered.
As usual in any Kurosawa film, the imagery involved is extremely powerful, and the moody tone of the film quickly draws viewers in--and once ensnared there is no escape; the film holds your attention with considerable ease throughout. Even so, I would not recommend THRONE OF BLOOD to western audiences who have never seen a Kurosawa film, for it is so completely Japanese in aesthetic that some may find it hard to grasp. It is best seen after you are already familiar with both Kurosawa's work and Japanese cinema in general.
The Criterion DVD is quite good, with a nicely restored transfer and bonus features that include the original trailer, a choice of subtitle translations (I prefer the Hoagland translation), and a somewhat awkward but ultimately rewarding commentary track by Michael Jeck. If you're a Kurosawa fan and you've never seen THRONE OF BLOOD, this is your opportunity; if you're looking to replace an existing video with a DVD, this one is likely as good as it gets. Strongly recommended.
GFT, Amazon Reviewer
on March 22, 2006
Throne of Blood is a masterpiece by one of the world's greatest film makers at the height of his powers.
Only Kurosawa could take the essence of Shakespearian stage drama and incorporate it into the medium of film as a dynamic tour de force. Yet at the same time he remains faithful to elements of Noh (a stagy traditional Japanese play-form in which design and movement are minimalized). A seeming contradiction, dynamism and static-ness yet Kurosawa masters both in the same medium. As usual; acting, writing, cinematography, sound, direction and production are all pitch perfect.
In this second Shakespearian based film by Kurosawa, focus is on the interplay of fate, free will and the fine thread the human psyche uses to weave the two together. On a more simpler level it is a man living and dying by the sword. In short what goes around comes around. What comes around for Toshiro Mifune as he gets his just deserts is a scene with straight as an arrow, perfect direction by Kurosawa leading to quite a pointed culminatin of events (pun intended...see the movie you'll understand).
Bonus features include excellent linear notes as well as the superb commentary of Donald Richie. Few people are more knowledgeable about film and Japanese film then he. The commentary is almost as interesting as the movie itself.
As usual Criterion presents its film in pristine condition. Some may complain that Criterion is too pricey but with them you get the best cinema has to offer. You cannot go wrong. One Kurosawa masterpiece packs more poignancy, punch and philosophy then 10 lesser films thus you get 10 times the movie at 5 times the price, really quite a deal if you look at it that way.
on January 20, 2014
This is my favorite Kurosawa film. I won't bore you with a plot summary you can read elsewhere so I'll talk about the picture quality. This Blu-ray is a slight improvement over the previous DVD which had good video & audio quality so don't be in a hurry to upgrade. The picture is a bit cleaner with slightly better contrasts and blacks but again there's nothing so bad with the previous version to render it unwatchable after seeing this new disc. I compared the old disc with this new one and had to really look hard to see a noticeable difference.
The extras are the same except for a segment from the Japanese Toho Masterworks series 'Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create' concerning the making of the film.
My only complaint is that the subtitles on this black & white film are too often difficult to read and worse on the sbove mentioned extra due their white letters not having wide enough black edges when shown over white or light grey backgrounds. I've seen worse on other films and this continuous problem makes for a frustrating viewing experience which lessened my understanding and therefore enjoyment of the story. I have complained on Criterion's website about the bad subtitling on their Blu-ray of Fritz Lang's 'M' and other Amazon customers have commented about this problem on other Criterion discs of black & white films. Why they continue to release films this way is a mystery. Don't the folks in charge see what we see at home or more likely what we can't see? This problem could have been corrected very easily or at least have the subtitles printed in easy-to-read yellow as I've seen on B&W films from other companies. What's the point of Criterion making a great restoration and us paying more for their discs if you can't fully enjoy them?
If you want more of the Toho series found on other Kurosawa Criterions, then buy this Blu-ray for this segment. If you're not interested in the new extra and own the previous disc, then think twice before spending your money on a Blu-ray upgrade. Try borrowing this Blu-ray and do your own comparison. I'm not knocking this Blu-ray as it does look good but the subtitles problem is my major concern and a warning for future buyers. What's the point of Criterion issuing a restoration with a new extra and us always willing to pay more for their quality discs if we can't fully enjoy them because of bad subtitling? Even a mediocre English dub would be preferable but you won't find one here. If the subtitles were easier to read, I would rate this Criterion five stars. Anyway it's a five star classic movie in any book and a must own set for fans.
on November 30, 2004
In this 1957 film directed by Akira Kurosawa, Lord Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Lord Miki (Akira Kubo) encounter a spirit in a maze-like forest that prophesies great things for the two comrades: the former will someday rule the imposing Spider's Web Castle and the latter will take his friend's position as commander of the First Fortress. Even beyond that, the spirit predicts that Miki's son will one day succeed Washizu as the master of Spider's Web Castle. Although the two men are initially reluctant to trust the spirit's words, preliminary parts of the prophecy come to pass, thus setting into motion a bloody chain of events that explores the differences between active and passive destiny. Lady Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), Washizu's scheming wife, prods her husband to seize the reigns of power at any cost. She insists that Washizu's only restraint is his own ambition and that heaven itself had preordained his rise.
Here, of course, is where the trouble begins. Asaji is initially convinced of the legitimacy of the spirit's words and points out to her husband that without his doing anything, part of the prophecy had come to pass. She then declares that Washizu must take the next step of killing the Great Lord in order to fulfill his destiny. And yet there is an obvious question that arises at this point...Miki's son, skeptical of the prospect of his succession to the throne of Spider's Web Castle, tells his father that the spirit's prophecy is only coming true because he and Washizu took it upon themselves to make it so; was it fate or was it a series of man-made coincidences? Asaji paradoxically takes both views as she becomes enraged at the thought of Miki's son and his posterity being the ones to benefit most from Washizu's deeds. Now discounting the inevitability of the spirit's words, Asaji demands that Washizu put an end to Miki and his son to clear the way for their own unborn child. Will Washizu trust the spirit and remain passive or will he actively take matters into his own hand? Will he succeed in rebuffing the spirit and shaping his own destiny or will he fail and fulfill the prophecy anyway?
The film itself is excellently done (it doesn't get much better than Mifune and Kurosawa working together) and as with most Criterion Collection DVDs, this one is filled with extras. My favorite feature is the two separate English-language subtitlings. The first is a bit more literary and not quite as literal (I'm so clever sometimes). The second is more conservative and stays closer to a truly accurate translation. Compare these sentences: "he has imbibed too freely" as opposed to "he has had too much wine." Because this is a period drama, the first feels more appropriate to me, especially since the status-based honorifics of Japanese culture (-san, -sama, -dono, etc.) generally lend themselves to older modes of the English language when translating them. The more lyrical translation can be a bit much at times, however, so I can certainly understand why someone would be inclined to prefer the more accurate one.
Though I was not particularly enthusiastic about the price-tag of this film, I was satisfied with the results. Highly recommended to all those with a penchant for high quality cinema.
on January 22, 2003
I am a student at Nagoya International School. Japanese is my first language, but I have studied English in my International School. And I was fortunate to see "Throne of Blood" in my English literature class. After viewing the movie, I found Kurosawa's Japanese version of Shakespeare's Macbeth was a spectacular masterpiece. "Throne of Blood" altered the setting of the story, but still kept the atmosphere of the original Macbeth, which was set in Scotland. I was afraid that the Japanese language in the movie would spoil the rich Shakespearian language included in the film. But Kurosawa kept the theme of Macbeth alive in the film by modifying couple of characters and plots of the story. For example, because witches aren't familiar to the Japanese in the 16th century, they replaced the witch by an evil spirit, Mononoke. Also, Kurosawa excluded characters like Macduff. So in the movie, the Mononoke didn't give the prophecy of "Beware of Macduff" and "Be afraid of no women born". Other than that, virtually all of the plot and characters were the same as the original version of Macbeth. This exhibits the fact that Kurosawa has successfully managed to keep the mood and the theme of Macbeth alive in the film.
on October 18, 2003
"Throne of Blood", aka "Castle of the Spider's Web", is the third Kurosawa film that I've seen, and it's definitely different from the other two ("The Seven Samurai" and "The Hidden Fortress"). It's much more somber and introspective, less action-oriented, and the general theme centers on ambition and fate rather than cooperative action to overcome a common problem.
The film is an adaptation of "Macbeth"; only instead of taking place in medieval Scotland, it's set in feudal Japan. I tend to be a Shakespeare purist, but I really enjoyed the different historical setting. Warlords, samurai and huge, squat fortresses are depicted in full glory. The samurai costumes are so beautiful and intricately detailed that I had to pause the film just to stare at them.
In addition, the dialogue and acting have been altered to fit a Japanese setting. Many of the scenes are shot in the Noh style, which is a very old, very classical form of Japanese theater. In Noh, the drama plays out on bare stages. In order to compensate for such sparse environments, the acting tends to be highly stylized. To Western audiences, this may translate as unrealistic, but to Eastern, I presume it comes off as compelling.
Toshiro Mifune plays the title character, Washizu, who receives predictions of power and glory from a forest spirit. Spurred on by his ambitious, scheming wife, Washizu commits heinous acts in order to fulfill the prophecy. The effect is like a tightening noose as Washizu becomes ensnared in his own web of ambition.
The final scene is a cinema classic. Never one to go for cheap effects, Kurosawa uses professional archers and real arrows, and Mifune's reaction is genuine. The scene visualizes the claustrophobic mood of the film and the idea of inescapable fate. Kurosawa was a master of this type of filmmaking.
I'm always impressed by how much Kurosawa accomplishes with so little. Take the forest spirit, for example. He simply shot her in blinding white light and removed all high notes from her voice. It's effectively creepy, yet it's something filmmakers today, with their multimillion-dollar CGI effects, would not even attempt. It's for these moments of filmmaking ingenuity, which "Throne of Blood" abounds in, that Kurosawa has become so well respected.
"Throne of Blood", despite a few slow parts and some overacting, is a gripping, haunting and worthwhile journey. It's also great filmmaking. I wouldn't recommend it to Kurosawa neophytes, but once you're hooked on the master of Japanese cinema, it's definitely one to seek out. If you're looking to purchase, the Criterion DVD is well worth the price; the film looks great and the commentary by Japanese-film expert Michael Jeck is entertaining and informative.
on April 26, 2003
Throne of Blood is Akira Kurosawa's adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Macbeth has always been my favorite Shakespeare play (of the ones I've read) and I loved Roman Polanski's film version. Kurosawa's film is basically the same story, but set during the samurai era circa 16th century Japan. The legendary Toshiro Mifune plays the Macbeth character, Washizu, an ambitious warrior who is convinced by his wife to murder his lord, thereby taking command in the lord's place. Well, if you've read Macbeth then you know the story.
There have been straight-forward adaptations of the play, such as Orson Welles' and Roman Polanski's, but Kurosawa's really gives the story a different feel with its new setting. There's not a whole lot of samurai action here to be found, it's more about the drama, really. The famous finale, however, featuring the flurry of arrows is positively stunning. One of the most memorable moments from any Kurosawa film I've seen.
Throne of Blood may be Kurosawa's eeriest film. It has a very creepy atmosphere throughout especially the scenes in the forest and the great scene where Washizu sees the ghost of Miki. It's a very atmospheric film, filled with images of fog moving through the trees, a giant army massing outside the castle, and the finale featuring the forest moving toward the castle as Washizu realizes that he's doomed. It's a great film and a must see for Kurosawa fans.
on January 13, 2006
Macbeth comes to Japan, and although it's set in feudal times and sometimes has the feel of a classic Noh play, Kurosawa borrows freely from Shakespeare: there are the prophecies of an evil spirit; there's Lady Macbeth feeding the fire of her husband's ambition and madly trying to wash the blood off her hands; and, of course, there's Birnam woods moving toward the castle at the end. Toshiro Mifune is Macbeth, and the final scene as he's barraged with countless arrows is a classic. Isuzu Yamada is Lady Macbeth, and she puts in a virtuoso performance of frightening proportions. The movie is very atmospheric - foggy woods, braying horses, an eerie musical score - that only adds to its intensity; but it's also poetic and moving in its own unique way. It's a brilliant piece of filmmaking. [I identify the characters using Shakespeare's play; in the movie they have Japanese names.]
on December 25, 2003
I am a student at Nagoya International School, and have recently studied Shakespeare's Macbeth in my English class. After reading the original Macbeth, we watched several versions (Polanski, BBC, and RSC) which included Kurosawa's version of Macbeth, "Throne of Blood". Each of Polanski, BBC, and RSC version reflected Shakespeare's original version of Macbeth, its rich and fluent language, and its fabulously distributed plot. Because of language difference, and difficulty to transfer Shakespearian language directly into Japanese, it seemed as though the value has been lost, but as a Japanese citizen, I was eager to understand that Kurosawa had used old fashioned Japanese language in his film, which created an harmony which can be compared to or to support the lackness of Shakespeare's language. I also enjoyed the way how Kurosawa transferred the witches of the original version, into 'evil spirits' or what is called 'mononoke' in Japanese. Kurosawa probably named the forest and the castle to match the evil spirit , or Macbeth's (Washizu) fate. The evil spirit appeared in white robe, with white messy hair, spinning a wheel in its hand, a stereotype of what a Japanese would imagine as a 'mononoke'. Cobweb or 'spider' was such a great aspect to extract the evilness of the original witches of Macbeth, because of the replacement of the witches to a 'mononoke'. The black and white film also contributed to express the 'spookiness' in the evil spirit. With some of these changes, Kurosawa perfectly fitted Macbeth itself from an English story into a brand new Japanese film, using ancient Japanese culture (ex. feudal systems, japanese chivalry). He was successful in translating the original Macbeth for the Japanese, to spread the wonderfulness of the Shakespearian plays to a new and wide ranged people.