Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Kumonosu-jô (Throne of Blood) (1957)

Today's film is a wonderful adaption of Macbeth.  The original title is Kumonosu-jô which translates to The Castle of the Spider's Web.  But here we will name it Throne of Blood. This movie was directed by Akira Kurosawa and it is absolutely amazing.

It really helps that as a theatre major, I know Macbeth backwards and forwards. For easy reference:

  • Washizu = Macbeth
  • Lady Asaji = Lady Macbeth
  • Miki = Banquo
So, after winning a victory for their castle, the two soldiers, Washizu and Miki, get lost in the tangled forest that surrounds the castle. The forest is appropriately called the Spider Web forest. While they are searching for a way out, they come across a mysterious glowing white figure, singing to herself.  She claims to see the future and tells them their fortunes.  Washizu will become a Lord of the garrison, and Miki will be a commander of the first fortress.  Eventually, Washizu will become the Great Lord (King) and later Miki's son will become the Great Lord.  Such ambitions are impossible for loyal soldiers like these two.  How could they ever hope to have such a high position?  After leaving the spirit, the two laugh about it and dismiss the idea.

Later that night, the king rewards the soldiers for their valor by giving them new titles - the exact titles the spirit prophesized!  The soldiers are stunned.  Washizu tells his wife, Asaji about what the spirit told him. Asaji is portrayed by Isuzu Yamada and she shines in her role.  Asaji is very ambitious and convinces her husband to kill the Great Lord and frame someone else.  He does, and afterward his friend Miki convinces the council to let him rule as Great Lord.  Miki also trusts in the prophecy, and has been friends with Washizu since childhood.

Asaji convinces Washizu to kill the Great Lord and fulfill his destiny.

Washizu tells Miki he wants to name his (Miki's) son heir to the throne, since he himself has no children.  After telling his wife in private, she informs him that she is pregnant.  But it is too late; he has already named someone else heir when his own child should have that honor.  What should he do?  We know by reading the story that he secretly has Miki and his son killed.  However, Miki's son escapes.

Washizu has a great banquet set up to honor his new heir.  However, Miki and his son never show up.  The other guests have no idea why.  They think he is being rude.  Washizu and his wife play it off like they don't know what's going on either.  Then, the glowing ghost of Miki appears at banquet!  This frightens Washizu and he draws his sword and flails it about the thin air.  Asaji is embarrassed and sends the other guests away.

Washizu's reign is short lived, however.  Miki's son and the prince have joined forces with a rival castle and are preparing to attack.  Meanwhile, Asaji has a baby but it was stillborn.  Washizu is worried that he may be defeated and flees into the forest to seek out the spirit.  The spirits tell him that no one can defeat him until the very foreest rises up to fight him. But this is impossible!  Washizu is pleased with everything the spirits tell him and returns to his castle to inspire his army.

Washizu finds his wife in a state of agitation, furiously scrubbing her hands.  She is trying to wash off the blood, but she can't.  Her ambition and guilt have driven her into a mad state, where she sees the bloodstains but cannot rid herself of them.  Isuzu Yamada's transition from a cold, plotting woman, to one who is upset and panicking over nothing, is very nice.  She is a good actor.

Out, out, damned spot!

Lastly, Washizu's army turns against him in fear! Why?  Because the forest is rising up and heading towards the castle to fight!  Washizu looks out into the forest and cannot believe it himself.  But it is true.  His army has had enough of him and start firing arrows his way.  This was actually done with real arrows being shot with precision.  Of course the ones that "hit" him are fake.  Real arrows are used to get a reaction of true fear from Toshirô Mifune, who played Washizu. Later, it revealed that Miki's son's army is concealing itself with branches while they advance on the castle. So it only appears as if the forest is attacking. So, the spirit's prophecy came true, but only because Washizu and Asaji made it come true.

This is one of the best adaptations of a Shakespeare play I have ever watched. I'm giving it a 9/10.

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