Take a Drink: for parallels to MacBeth
Take a Drink: for messengers
Take a Drink: whenever Asaji (Lady MacBeth) opens her mouth
Take a Drink: for birds
Take a Drink: whenever the prophecy is proven true
Do a Shot: for coups
By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
We’re often called/accused of being a Remix Culture these days, but as long as there’s been culture, there have been people who repackage and reinterpret it, use it to create something new. One of the most gifted remixers of cinema was Akira Kurosawa, who often translated (and inspired later versions of) Westerns into badass samurai flicks. The other well he famously returned to was Shakespeare.
Othello got weird.
His first try at the Bard was Throne of Blood, a translation of Macbeth to feudal Japan. Toshiro Mifune stars as Washizu, who with Miki (Minoru Chiaki) helps win a great battle for his lord. ON the way back to his castle to collect their reward, they get lost in a forest and encounter a spirit who tells them their fortunes. This knowledge leads to a series of terrible decisions, often at the instigation of Washizu’s wife Asaji (Isuzu Yamada).
Shakespeare and Kurosawa were a match made in cinematic heaven, as he’d further demonstrate with the King Lear-inspired Ran. Throne of Blood laid the groundwork, though, and in many ways remains to this day the absolute best of Macbeth’s cinematic adaptions.
Michael Fassbenderrrr!! Notwithstanding
Kurosawa’s masterstroke was combining the theatricality of the source material with the theatrical stylings of traditional Japanese Noh dramas. The result is larger than life, a heightened, operatic reality created by the beautiful set design and costuming, impressionistic black and white photography (bolstered by Kurosawa’s typical penchant for storytelling through framing, especially of Mifune in solitude), the propulsive, flute and drum-driven traditional Japanese score, and the uniformly excellent, intense performances.
Lady Macbeth in several ways has the juiciest role, and maybe it’s her lack of eyebrows, but in Throne of Blood Yamada is straight up chilling. She plays malevolent and manipulative with verve, but the creepy crown goes to Chieko Naniwa playing the old woman in the forest. Her setting ghastly makeup certainly help, but holy shit, that voice will send shivers down your spine.
And now for the first night of a three week engagement in my nightmares!
The MVP, though, has to go to Toshiro Mifune. He’s furious, suspicious, tortured, weak-willed, and eventually insane, all wrapped up in a ball of crazy-eyed intensity culminating in his final scene, one of the most hardcore death scenes in cinema history. You see, the terror in his eyes is mostly real, because in typical Great Director style, Akira Kurosawa opted for a little psychological abuse to spice up his performance. The arrows in the scene are real, and Mifune’s frantic arm-waving was to signal which way he was going to run next. Thankfully, all was well, and the results speak for themselves.
The dialogue at the beginning is a little rough to start. It’s basically straight exposition, you know, “This is my backstory. Now let me tell you about my plan!”, that sort of thing.
Throne of Blood may be set in feudal Japan, but rarely has a director translated Shakespeare (and never Macbeth) to screen half as well as Kurosawa.