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THRONE OF BLOOD (Kumonosu jo) (director/writer: Akira Kurosawa; screenwriters: Shinobu Hashimoto/Ryuzo Kikushima/Hideo Oguni/inspired by William Shakespeare’s play Macbeth; cinematographer: Asakazu Nakai; editor: Akira Kurosawa; music: Masaru Satô; cast: Toshiro Mifune (Taketori Washizu), Isuzu Yamada (Lady Asaji Washizu), Minoru Chiaki (Yoshiaki Miki), Akira Kubo (Yoshiteru Miki), Hiroshi Tachikawa (Kuniharu Tsuzuki), Takashi Shimura (Noriyasu Odagura), Chieko Naniwa (Ghostly old woman seer); Runtime: 108; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Akira Kurosawa/Sojiro Motoki; The Criterion Collection; 1957-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“Toshiro Mifune gives a winning quirky performance.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Akira Kurosawa’s (“Ran”/”The Bad Sleep Well”/”Yojimbo”) version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth as a 16th century Japanese samurai proves to be one of the best such interpretations of the bard ever on film. Its got the eerie fog-drenched mood set just right, it’s visually stunning and it’s beautifully filmed in black-and-white on the slopes of Mt. Fuji, where Kurosawa constructed a medieval castle. Kurosawa keeps the same Macbeth plot but has deleted most of the minor characters and poetry, instead he gets right to the dramatics. It’s cowritten by Kurosawa, Shinobu Hashimoto and Ryuzo Kikushima. Toshiro Mifune gives a winning quirky performance, with fits of ranting and raving, as the central character. It builds to a stirring ending, whereas the Mifune character goes down in a volley of arrows.

Captain Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and his best friend Captain Miki (Minoru Chiaki) are called to meet Lord Tsunaki (Hiroshi Tachikawa), the Lord of Cobweb Castle, after putting down a rebellion by the commander of his North Castle, Fujimaki, who has joined forces with rival Lord Inui. The winning warriors pass through the dark and foggy Cobweb Forest. There they encounter an old woman ghost (Chieko Naniwa) who predicts their future, saying Washizu will reign briefly as the Lord of Cobweb Castle. The king bestows on the two warriors the gifts the old witch predicted, as Washizu gets the North Castle and Miki gets Fort One. Washizu is spurred on by his poison-tongued ambitious wife Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), not contented with North Castle and believing the time now is ripe for the takeover as Lord Tsunaki visits their castle to get them to attack Lord Inui. Wifey convinces hubby to slay Lord Tsunaki and blame another. Washizu is guilt-stricken after the foul deed, and now he must defend himself from his enemies who catch on to his deceit.

It’s Noh theater drama voicing doom and gloom for the ambitious protagonist, who does his despicable wife’s bidding and becomes murdered by ambition.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”