Throne of Blood (1957)

Akira Kurosawa often drew inspiration directly from "western culture" with his salutes to literature and genres in his films. From "Ran" to "Seven Samurai", there isn't much in between that Kurosawa himself hails as the genesis for his films that doesn't stem from something western. Take "Throne of Blood" for example. It is loosely based on William Shakespeare's Macbeth and it becomes even more wildly chaotic than "Seven Samurai" ever was.
"Throne of Blood" sees Washizu (ToshirĂ´ Mifune a long time Kurosawa collaborator) as the unhinging focal point of the story. He is riding in the woods one day when a spirit is revealed to him and tells him that it will not even be a day before he is promoted to master of the North Castle. His traveling companion Miki (Akira Kubo) is prophesied to be commander of Fort One. Both of them are shaken by this experience but neither of them completely doubt the words said. There is the minor disbelief when they return home and their lord fulfills the prophesy, promoting both the men.
Now that the spirit world has some sort of hold on them, Washizu's wife (Isuzu Yamada) starts to nag him to do more with his elated position. She wants more power for both of them and more power means that blood will have to be shed.
Conspiring to murder the lord, the couple descend into something insane and unrivaled. Quietly, Kurosawa lets the emotions build and the logic fall apart until we are completely convinced of both the man and his wife's mental status.
Because that's really all "Throne of Blood" is: a character study about two humans losing their grip on what is real and what isn't. It's deadly fascinating and scenes rise up in which Washizu hallucinates the ghost of his friend and tries to challenge him to a fight...or when he returns to the forest to demand to speak with the spirits once again.
Kurosawa knows how to make a film look good; but sadly that isn't enough to make this a masterpiece for me. I can see the attraction and the classic foreign feel that Kurosawa can so easily pull off makes this nothing if not interesting. There are gaps in between dialogue and the overacting of ToshirĂ´ Mifune has never sat right for me.
Is it personal? Well, perhaps; but I could argue my dislikes for the movie quite ardently.
"Throne of Blood's" plot isn't its strong point. Instead it relies entirely on Washizu and when that character isn't completely convincing, it becomes hard to take the rest of it seriously.
Kurosawa uses fog and tracking shots to help booster the suspense of his movie which works fairly well.
There's always this disconnect between the image and the story for me. Sometimes it feels like he's just trying to make something look nice in order to prove a point instead of using the beauty as the story (hence why I find Malick so inspiring and so poetic).
The criticisms of pretentiousness (which, how do you determine if something is pretentious, since it's all subjective? I never understood that) seem to hold true; but "Throne of Blood" belongs higher than its petty issues.
Above all, it's entertaining.

Score: ★★★½

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