Throne of Blood, A.K.A Kumonshu-Jo is the 1957 Japanese film adaptation of Shakespere’s Macbeth, directed by Akira Kurosawa. Directors don’t come much better than Kurosawa, writers don’t come much better than Shakespeare, and movies don’t come much better than this excellent combination of the two. Add Mifune’s acting and the most memorable female performance by Isuzu Yamada as lady Macbeth. Film making rarely gets better than this!
Kurosawa’s lady Macbeth is one of the most terrifying things I have ever seen. Dressed in Noh make-up, slow-moving like the world’s most effective predator, unblinking, she is, without a doubt, the true lady Macbeth. She turns Mifune to a murder, and, although she is seen going mad at the end, we do not see her die. With a demonic stillness that cracks into physical action only when she is completely sure of herself or in utter desperation. It is one of the most disturbing characterizations I have ever encountered. This, also is one of the very few Kurosawa films where a woman plays a very important role.
The tragedy of the tale is elevated by the fact that the viewers are told at the start what will happen. It is to be noted that Kurosawa started his directional career with radical and modern noir films, like Stray Dog and High & Low, and gradually became traditionalist as his career went on. This movie is a turning point for Kurosawa as he started to move away from the radicalism and western influences of his earlier movies, to utilizing traditional Japanese theater. This film has both elements, and that’s what makes it a masterpiece!