This adaptation of the Scottish Play, directed by Akira Kurosawa (who brought you Seven Samurai, among others), is spliced with elements of Noh theater, making for a unique film.
The part of Lord Macbeth is given to General Taketoti Washizu, a samurai commander under Lord Tsuzuki of Spider Web Forest. Washizu, along with his friend and fellow general, Yoshiaki Miki, meet a spirit in the woods on the trek back to Tsuzuki’s castle from their latest triumphant battle. The spirit tells them that Washizu will become lord of Spider Web Castle, and that so will Miki’s son. Upon their return, Washizu is prodded by his wife into speeding up this prophecy by killing Lord Tsuzuki, an act which they commit together. It is seen as a tragic murder unconnected with Washizu or his wife, and the command of Spider Web Castle passes to Washizu, just as the spirit foretold. Without children, Washizu at first thinks to make Miki’s son his heir to neatly tie up the prophecy, but things get complicated when Lady Washizu becomes pregnant, and Miki suspects Washizu of being Tsuzuki’s killer.
There are any number of issues when translating Shakespeare into film. You’ve got the Elizabethan theatrical style of rhythmic speaking to contend with, from unfamiliar language to the strange cadence of iambic pentameter, and then there’s the debate about what accent it should be spoken in and whether or not that affects the delivery of the words. When adapting a 400-year-old story without actually updating the language, it becomes tricky to deliver those long soliloquies and jokes in need of translation without losing your audience.
Kurosawa does not have to grapple with any of this, as the film is in Japanese! However, the conventions of Elizabethan drama are well-translated into Noh theater, something which Kurosawa plays on to great effect. Classic visual, audio, and conventional elements from Noh theater are utilized: pine branches and Shinto arches, carefully choreographed blocking for the actors, rhythmic footfalls and hoof beats, and even a nod to wig drama, or a female-driven play, which is superbly suited to Lady Washizu/Lady Macbeth. Whether or not the elements of Noh theater are understood, the effect is that of a cultured, restrained air that is often today associated with Shakespeare. But it remains less convoluted, as Throne of Blood does not force its audience to wade through Shakespearian language without pausing to parse out unfamiliar words and turns of phrase. When all is said and done, there’s the powerful plot rife with tension, some gorgeous cinematic shots, and the distingue air. Everything else is pure gravy (and what gravy it is!).
Throne of Blood is a meaty film that’s beloved by film buffs and casual viewers alike. There’s so much to appreciate on multiple levels, whether you’re into cinematography, Noh, Shakespeare, feudal Japan, complex plots, or just an engaging film to watch on a Saturday night.