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PopGap #07: Throne of Blood (1957)

PopGap #07: Throne of Blood (1957)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by dorrk
01 August 2015

The Flickchart 150: Movies so great, that we’ve missed or forgotten them; #11/17

Global Flickchart Rank: #135
My Flickchart Rank: #480

The second of three Akira Kurosawa movies I'm watching this month is the one I was most looking forward to. My favorite of all of his movies, so far, is his 1985 King Lear-inspired epic Ran; Throne of Blood, nearly 30 years earlier, is his take on Macbeth, which seems ideally suited to his grim and bloody proclivities. And, for the most part, it's wonderful, but some odd shortcuts in the storytelling kept me from becoming engrossed in it.

Toshiro Mifune gives a typically committed performance as Washizu, one of two generals summoned by their lord for commendations following a dramatic battlefield victory. On their way through the deceptive "Spider Web Forest" that surrounds the castle, they stumble upon a spirit who flatters them with predictions of an imminent rise to greater power. As these predictions come true, Washizu's wife (Isuzu Yamada) spurs him on to be proactive about fulfilling the prophecies. Spoiler alert: it's the story of Macbeth. Things go poorly for Washizu.

Throne of Blood finds Kurosawa deftly balancing intimate scenes of personal ambition, crisis and horror with an epic canvas lurking ominously in the background. For the most part, it's a brilliant success, from its grippingly eerie opening to its majestically wrought final scene. Oddly, however, Throne of Blood is unusually short for one of Kurosawa's period dramas — under two hours — and rushes past a few key points in the second half. If it had taken an extra half-hour to expand on the fates of Miki (Akira Kubo) — which is confusing and anti-climactic — and Washizu's heir, the movie as a whole could've packed a more potent emotional blow, but instead it was pretty flat for a stretch leading up to the fantastic final sequence. Also, I guess I (maybe unfairly) expected something stronger from Yamada as Lady Washizu. Her performance was very good, and nicely understated, but I was hoping for something more along the lines of the utterly memorable Lady Kaede in Ran.

PopGap #07: Throne of Blood (1957)

Trailer for Throne of Blood (1957)