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At-A-Glance Film Reviews

Throne of Blood (1957)



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As Akira Kurosawa would do for King Lear with Ran decades later, so does Throne of Blood treat Shakespeare's MacBeth with its finest cinematic incarnation. The story works just as well, and arguably better, in the feudal Japan setting, and astonishingly beautiful cinematography and energetic, stylized acting bring the story alive in a way it frankly never has, for me, in readings or other adaptations. I'm a great admirer of Shakespeare, as many are, but MacBeth has long been for me the one that got away. It has not resonated with me the way Hamlet or Julius Caesar always have -- until viewing Throne of Blood.

The film understands well the psychological element of the story: how a prophecy, delivered unto those it concerns, may not -- perhaps cannot -- be merely a passive foretelling of the future but an active agent in the bringing about of events. We never know for sure: it is easily imaginable how the events of the film's prophecy could have come about in the natural course of things. Yet, how compellingly does it come about via the deliberate actions of the characters, acting as a consequence of their knowledge of it! It is a thought-provoking exercise, revealing about the human psyche, to watch the central character, Washizu, played by Toshiro Mifune in a performance that shares little except exuberance with his scene-stealing work in The Seven Samurai, who is enticed and tempted by the attractive parts of the prophecies he is given, enough to pursue it actively in utter disregard for the other portions. Is it not a universal human failing to believe only in that that pleases us and shut the unpleasant from our minds? How many of us subscribe to piecemeal religions -- constructed from all the most attractive tenets of world religions and perhaps augmented with more of our own, and lacking any that displease us? -- not because we believe them to be so, but because it is pleasant to believe them? Washizu suffers from this failing: he believes in much of the prophecy but illogically rejects a key component -- in doing so, he gives up a way for the prophecy to come about in an acceptable manner all around and becomes his own undoing.

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