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Throne of Blood – The Criterion Collection #190 (a J!-ENT Blu-ray Review)

January 3, 2014 by  



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“Throne of Blood” is one of the more visually powerful films from Akira Kurosawa.  Each shot is mesmerizing, may it be a focus on a character, their legs or among a large crowd of people, we are captivated by this story of samurai but also an incorporation of the supernatural.  It’s efficacy of adapting “MacBeth” for a Japanese film, incorporating Noh elements, is mesmerizing but also with a permeating creepy atmosphere.  Another magnificent film in already an outstanding oeuvre from Akira Kurosawa, “Throne of Blood” is highly recommended!

Image courtesy of © 1957 Toho Co., Ltd. 2014 The Criterion Collection. All Rights Reserved.

TITLE: Throne of Blood – The Criterion Collection #190

RELEASE OF FILM: 1957

DURATION: 109 Minutes

BLU-RAY INFORMATION: 1080p High Definition, Colors, 1:37:1 Aspect Ratio, Monaural Japanese, Subtitles: English

COMPANY: Janus Films/Toho/The Criterion Collection

RELEASED: January 7, 2014

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

Screenplay by Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa

Based on William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”

Produced by Akira Kurosawa, Sojiro Motoki

Music by Masaru Sato

Cinematography by Asakazu Nakai

Production Design by Yoshiro Muraki

Starring:

Toshiro Mifune as Taketoki Washizu

Isuzu Yamada as Lady Asaji Washizu

Takashi Shimura as Noriyasu Odagura

Akira Kubo as Yoshiteru Miki

Hiroshi Tachikawa as Kunimaru Tsuzuki

Minoru Chiaki as Yoshiaki Miki

Takamaru Sasaki as Kuniharu Tsuzuki

A vivid, visceral Macbeth adaptation, Throne of Blood, directed by Akira Kurosawa, sets Shakespeare’s definitive tale of ambition and duplicity in a ghostly, fog-enshrouded landscape in feudal Japan. As a hardened warrior who rises savagely to power, Toshiro Mifune gives a remarkable, animalistic performance, as does Isuzu Yamada as his ruthless wife. Throne of Blood fuses classical Western tragedy with formal elements taken from Noh theater to create an unforgettable cinematic experience.

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For Akira Kurosawa, already receiving critical acclaim for his body of work which include “Seven Samurai”, “Ikiru”, “Rashomon”, to name a few, he had wanted to create a film based on William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”.

Having wanted to attempt it back in 1950, Orson Welles had beat him to the punch to make a film based on “Macbeth”, so Kurosawa waited under seven years and “Throne of Blood” (Kumonosu-jo which translates to “Spider Web Castle”) was created.

With the castle shot high on Mt. Fuji in order to capture real fog and landscapes, with the assistance of the U.S. Marine Corps, the crew worked hard to clear the location to shoot the film, while the castle courtyard was shot at a studio in Toho.

Considered as a masterpiece by some Akira Kurosawa fans, while looked at as one of the better if not the best screen adaptation inspired by Shakespeare’s “MacBeth”.

And now, the Blu-ray release of “Throne of Blood” will be released by the Criterion Collection.

“Throne of Blood” revolves around a village that was attacked by a rival army.  Fortunately, the villages were well-defended and General Washizu (portrayed by Toshiro Mifune) and his friend, General Miki (portrayed by Yoshiaki Miki) are sent to the to kill their enemy.

But while riding their horses to the forest, they hear a noise and a strange voice.  Inside the forest, they find the home of a creepy mysterious individual.  When they approach it, it starts telling a prophecy that General Washizu will be master of the North Garrison and that General Miki will master of Fort One.  And as both men laugh at the prophecy, she then tells General Washizu that he will become the Lord of the Spider Web Castle but then surprises them both that Miki’s son will also become the next lord of the castle.

Then all of a sudden, the mysterious individual disappears.

Shocked by what they saw, both men discuss what just transpired and laugh it off and discuss the possibilities of what if.

But as soon as they return back home, both are rewarded for their bravery, General Washizu is made the master of the North Garrison and General Miki the master of Fort One.  Exactly how the mysterious being prophesied.

But back at home, after General Washizu tells his wife Lady Asaji Washizu (portrayed by Isuzu Yamada) of what transpired, she begins to manipulate him by trying to make the second prophecy come true by trying to convince him to kill Lord Kuniharu Tsuzuki (portrayed by Takamaru Sasaki).  She tells him how Lord Tsuzuki became a leader by killing the predecessor but Washizu responds that it was due to an uprising.  What reason should he kill his Lord?

But then Lady Asaji Washizu also tells him that she must kill his friend General Miki which shocks him.  She tells him that only he and General Miki are the only people aware of the prophecy.  If he is to reveal the prophecy to anyone, people can become jealous and spiteful and both he and her will get kicked out of their village or killed.

But General Washizu refuses as General Miki is his good friend and has no reason to kill Lord Tsuzuki, but he knows what his wife is telling him is true and it bothers his conscience.

When Lord Tsuzuki visits the North Garrison, his wife tries to convince him that now he can enact his plan to become the new lord.  But General Washizu who knows it is possible, doesn’t do a thing.

That is until Lady Asaji Washizu acts on her own by drugging the sake for the Lord’s guards which causes them to fall asleep.  She comes back with a spear and puts it into her husbands hands.  Seeing that his wife has went through with the plan for him to become the lord, General Washizu acts upon it and kills the Lord’s Guards.   Meanwhile as the guards are killed by General Washizu, Lady Washizu starts screaming outside “intruder” and in the process, Lord Tsuzuki is eventually killed and the plan of prophecy for General Washizu to become the new Lord of the Spider Web Castle comes true.

And as General Washizu becomes the new Lord, he still believes the prophecy of General Miki’s son to be the new lord to be true because he and Lady Asaji Washizu are unable to have a child.  But Lady Washizu lies and tells him that she is pregnant and tries to convince him once again that he must kill General Miki and his son for him to stay as Lord.

But will General Washizu kill his dear friend?

VIDEO:

“Throne of Blood – The Criterion Collection #190” is presented in 1080p High Definition (1:37:1 aspect ratio), black and white.

The film looks great in HD, retaining its grain, the film is well-contrast and for the most part, compared to its older DVD, details are much more prominent (especially with backgrounds), clarity in costume or close up details are noticeable (especially close ups on the legs or Lady Washizu’s wicked face).  There are a few scratches but nothing detrimental. I didn’t notice any blurring nor did I notice any artifacts during my viewing of the film.

According to the Criterion Collection, “This new digital transfer was created in 2K resolution on a DFT Scanity film scanner from the original 35mm fine-grain master positive; the film’s original negative no longer exists. Thousands of instances of dirt, debris, scratches, cinch marks, warps, jitter, and flicker were manually removed using MTI’s DRS and Pixel Farm’s PFClean, while Digital Vision’s Phoenix was used for small dirt, grain, and noise management.

AUDIO & SUBTITLES:

“Throne of Blood – The Criterion Collection #190” is presented in Japanese LPCM 1.0.  Dialogue and music is clear through the center channel and did not notice any hiss or problems during viewing.

It’s important to note that there are two subtitles provided for this release.  One by Linda Hoaglund (a Japanese film translator) and the other by Donald Richie (Akira Kurosawa scholar).

According to the Criterion Collection, “The original monaural soundtrack was restored at 24-bit from an optical print track.  Clicks, thumps, hiss and hum were manually removed using Pro Tools HD.  Crackle was attenuated using AudioCube’s integrated workstation”.

SPECIAL FEATURES:

“Throne of Blood – The Criterion Collection #190″ comes with the following special features:

  • Audio Commentary – Audio Commentary recorded for the Criterion Collection back in 2002 featuring Japanese film expert Michael Jeck.
  • Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create – (22:44) A featurette on the making of “Throne of Blood” and how the film included Noh elements.
  • Trailer – (3:45) Featuring the original theatrical trailer for “Throne of Blood”.

EXTRAS:

“Throne of Blood – The Criterion Collection #190″ comes with a 26-page booklet featuring “Shakespeare Transposed” by Stephen Prince, Linda Hoaglund and Donald Richie explain their approach to creating the subtitle translation for “Throne of Blood”.  Also, “Throne of Blood” is among the newer Criterion Blu-ray releases that now come with a DVD version of the film.

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Considered as one of the best film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s “Macbeth”, Akira Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood” is mesmerizing and unlike many of the films he has created in his notable oeuvre during that time.

While creating a film adaptation of “Macbeth” has always been a dream and goal for Kurosawa, but before the making of “Throne of Blood”, it was important for him to use modern film-making techniques in making a jidai film.

According to Donald Richie, author of “The Films of Akira Kurosawa”, Akira Kurosawa called “Throne of Blood” an “experiment”.    That the film is “a finished film with no loose ends. The characters have no future.  Cause and effect is the only law.  Freedom does not exist”.

Akira Kurosawa also utilizes Japanese Noh (a musical drama that has been performed in Japan since in the 13th century) and it can be seen in various characters such as the songs of the mysterious forest spirit, the movement of the characters in how they sit and stand, especially the movements of Lady Washizu.  But it was important to showcase his appreciation of the movement of characters in Noh and to utilize it for his film “Throne of Blood”.

But not just with movement, as for those who see a Noh mask showing the face of a demon, the way that Lady Washizu’s face was created to look like a Noh mask and her movements are genuinely creepy.

Also, for Kurosawa’s adaptation of “Macbeth”, there are some distinctions that make this film Japanese.  For Japanese culture, where ghosts are seen as vengeful spirits in Western cinema, in Japanese culture, they are seen as embodiments of nature that are neither good or evil.

But a major distinction is the character of General Washizu, he is not the main motivation to ensure the prophecy becomes true.  He does not want to kill his Lord to usurp the throne, nor does he want to kill his good friend to ensure his family’s future.  His actions are due to his wife’s actions and he acts upon it because she is the catalyst.  He is a man that is compulsive but also a man who is fearful, a man who has a guilty conscience and is consumed by guilt of what he must due to become the lord of the castle.

Another fascinating aspect of “Throne of Blood” is where the film was shot.  The castle exteriors and forest scenes were shot on the popular volcano, Mt. Fuji. High up in the area, aided by the US military in cleaning up the area for the film to be shot, Kurosawa wanted to capture the look of the area due to its volcanic ash, mountainous landscape but most importantly, to get the feeling of dread with real fog being captured on camera.

While the interiors were shot at Toho, but volcanic ash from Mt. Fuji was taken to the studio to resemble the area.

But perhaps the most amazing scene was the arrows action scene which involved real arrows being shot at a character.  Precision shooting (arrows used needles that were a little thicker than needles used for a record player), use of a wire and for the most part, creating one of the most amazing action scenes in a Kurosawa film.

As for the Blu-ray release, having previously owned the Criterion Collection DVD version, it’s important to note that the original Criterion Collection DVD was one of their earliest releases.  So, what the new Blu-ray release brings is much more clarity to picture quality, no blurring, backgrounds are much more visible.  Even closeups of the legs, you can see the material, see the trees and can see the branches clearly.  So, there is major improvement when it comes to picture quality.

But also, another major plus for those who are selective about translations, considering the challenges of this film based on “MacBeth” was the use of two translators, Donald Richie, best known as an Akira Kurosawa scholar has one approach to translating the film for subtitles and Linda Hoaglund, a notable translator who also had a different approach to translating the film.  So, it definitely lends to watching the film again for its different subtitle translations.

The Blu-ray maintains the original “Akira Kurosawa: It’s Wonderful to Create” featurette, this version focused on “Throne of Blood” that is focused on the making of the film but also the incorporation of Noh into the film, from the look and movements of characters.

As a fan of Akira Kurosawa works, these featurettes included with each Blu-ray and original DVD release was possibly the major reason I did not purchase the “AK100: 25 Films by Akira Kurosawa”, a fantastic box set from the Criterion Collection on DVD with 25 films including the unreleased “Madadayo” film.  But as wonderful the set is,  they also don’t have the “Akira Kurosawa: It’s Wonderful to Create” featurettes which for me, are important.

These featurettes are well-made, so informative and also feature original interviews with cast and crew involved with the film.  I do feel that Akira Kurosawa fans who want the best experience of knowing more about his filmmaking, will learn a lot from these featurettes (which are divided up with each Kurosawa Blu-ray/DVD release).

Overall, “Throne of Blood” is one of the more visually powerful films from Akira Kurosawa.  Each shot is mesmerizing, may it be a focus on a character, their legs or among a large crowd of people, we are captivated by this story of samurai but also an incorporation of the supernatural.  It’s efficacy of adapting “MacBeth” for a Japanese film, incorporating Noh elements, is mesmerizing but also with a permeating creepy atmosphere.

Another magnificent film in already an outstanding oeuvre from Akira Kurosawa, “Throne of Blood” is highly recommended!






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