I missed the showing of Throne of Blood, the movie I most wanted to see at Film Forum’s ongoing Kurosawa festival, which ticked me off royally until Sean pointed out that it wasn’t as though I had lost my one and only opportunity to see it. It is, after all, available on DVD and has been for years. Oh yeah. So I rented Throne from Netflix and watched it at home. Happy ending!
Throne of Blood interested me most because it’s a reworking of Shakespeare’s play Macbeth, and I love watching different people tell the same story. It could be any story—a fairy tale, a classic novel, a mythologized historical event—but Shakespeare’s plays are particularly rich for nuanced repetition. People from different generations and cultures and philosophies have returned to the plays again and again, creating countless Hamlets and Richards, countless Juliets and Portias, and the contrasts among them never stop intriguing me. (Kurosawa also adapted King Lear into the samurai epic Ran, which I hope to catch during its two-week Film Forum run in February.)
Kurosawa’s Macbeth is more fatalistic than most, and his protagonist, by extension, is marginally more sympathetic. That’s compelling on its own, but what really makes the movie work is how gloriously cinematic it is, with one perfectly orchestrated, evocative sequence after another—all the more impressive when you consider that the movie’s narrative roots are in seventeenth-century Elizabethan theater and its visual roots in fourteenth-century Japanese Noh theater. Yet there’s nothing stagy about the dynamic middle-distance shots of frantic horseback riding or the eerily fluid special effects of the witch’s entrance and exit or the agonizingly still, taut framing of Lady Asaji (Lady Macbeth) as she waits for her husband to return from his regicidal mission. Throne of Blood works as a retelling of Macbeth because it works first and foremost as a movie.