Review of ‘Throne of Blood’

January 19, 2017

 

The translation from stage to screen almost always brings out some changes. ‘Throne of Blood’, by Akira Kurosawa, is an adaptation of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth. This film is in Japanese and yet it manages to capture the essence of popular English play. This movie is a brilliant synthesis of diverse cultural, aesthetic, and historical sources with only one layer which derives from Shakespeare.

So basically play is about Macbeth and Banquo who are thanes to Scottish king Duncan. Three witches tell Macbeth that he will become king and they tell Banquo that his sons shall be kings. Lady Macbeth persuades Macbeth to kill Duncan and becomes the king. So Macbeth murders Duncan. As the play progresses he becomes a ruthless leader and orders to kill Banquo. In midst of it, he orders to murder Macduff’s family, another thane. Macduff joins Malcolm, Duncan’s son, and English general to overthrow Macbeth and restore Malcolm to the throne. Macbeth consults with the three witches again and they tell him that “none of the woman born shall harm Macbeth.” He arrogantly reads this as a sign of his own invincibility. When facing the corrupt king in battle, however, Macduff reveals that he was ‘from his mother’s womb untimely ripped. He kills Macbeth, thereby restoring Malcolm to the throne.

Shakespeare is known for using a lot of imagery in his plays. Akira Kurosawa has done the same in this film. instead of using dialogues he has effectively used an image, sound, and silence to create an atmospheric adaptation. Film opens with the bleak landscape covered with fog. There is no music and only sound of howling and wind could be heard, before a chorus chant.

This ambiguous chant followed by the music establishes an eerie atmosphere. Kurosawa has used fog to bring out the feeling of uncertainty. Now if we compare this to original play then we will see that play has a different start. The play opens with ‘Thunder and Lightning’ but Kurosawa opted to have a quieter opening to tell his story. He has used chorus as his prologue whereas Shakespeare opens his play with three witches plotting to meet Macbeth.  The witches end the first scene of the play with the famous lines: ‘Fair is foul and foul is fair: hover through the fog and filthy air.’ The audience does not trust their perception. Mention of filthy air suggests that corruption will play a big part in this play. Instead of using lines or dialogues, Kurosawa has used images and sound to open his movie.

The character of Washizu (Macbeth) and Miki (Banquo) appear very uncertain when they first appear on the screen. The first encounter of the witches by Macbeth and Washizu triggered different reactions. When he first met the witch, Macbeth confronted the witches eagerly and forced them to tell him about the future of Banquo and him. In contrast, Washizu kept a stern face when he faced the witch. It was Miki, who kindly and calmly asked the witch about the omens. It showed that Washizu was less ambitious of the fame that was meant to come. Washizu was a righteous being. He was eager to leave the forest right afterward, but Macbeth did not show any agitation; he stayed and had a discussion with Banquo calmly. Not just so, Macbeth asked Banquo if his sons would be kings, but he did not mention himself. Washizu did not formulate this type of cognition; he became speechless after he heard the wicked prophecy.

As a result, the film has a definite coldness; it keeps the viewer outside the world it depicts. Kurosawa wants us to grasp the lesson, to see the folly of human behavior, rather than to identify or empathize with the characters.

Lady Macbeth and Asaji have manipulated their husband. Lady Macbeth used vigorous words to incite the desire of Macbeth. On the other hand, Asaji, who was a character portrayed using mime, said very little and used simply her facial expression to imply her thoughts. She concealed her thoughts, which made her husband extremely vulnerable. Kurosawa frequently avoided dialogue in the most striking moments of the film. In the moments leading up to Lord Tsusuzki’s (King Duncan) murder, the sound is used sparingly to increase the tension. Washizu’s wife Asaji slowly walks around the set, preparing the murder. Aside from the occasional music cue, the only sound is the swish of Asaji’s gown against the floor, which makes an eerie noise. Her appearance against the dark background makes her look similar to the witch in the film. Perhaps the darkest moment in the film is at the end of the banquet scene. In the play, Macbeth is told by the murderers that they have successfully killed his former friend Banquo before he sees Banquo’s ghost at the banquet. In Throne of Blood, Washizu sees Miki’s ghost before the murderer informs him that Miki is dead. The murderer even brings Miki’s severed head. This adds a more gruesome element to an already haunting scene, but the true horror comes from what happens when the murderer tells Washizu that he failed to kill Miki’s son. In the play, Macbeth is merely angry. In Throne of Blood, Asaji leaves before Washizu kills the murderer. The camera does not move and stays on Washizu as he watches the murderer die slowly from his wounds. Again, no words are spoken and the only sounds come from the dying man.

Throne of Blood takes liberties with the plot of Macbeth as well as the language. Probably the biggest change from the play is the relationship between Washizu and Noriyasu (Macduff). Macduff kills Macbeth at the end of the play to avenge the deaths of his wife and son, who Macbeth had ordered to be killed.

The director focuses mainly on the inner struggle of Washizu, and the turmoils he has gone through were reflected trough the description of the disastrously peculiar weather. The display of the content might have certain major similarities, but Throne of Blood gave the audience revolutionary ideas that did not appear in Macbeth.

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