Before Akira Kurosawa did Hamlet and King Lear, he adapted Shakespeare’s Macbeth in 1957’s Throne of Blood.
In addition to moving the setting to feudal Japan, Kurosawa also uses original dialogue in the story. He replaces the flowery language of Shakespeare with the stylized, exaggerated gestures of Japanese Noh theater. It’s a device that can be seen in much of Kurosawa’s work, especially the samurai films, but is perhaps at its best in this instance. As we watch the tragedy unfold, with characters manipulated by demonic forces with unknowable motivations, the embellished movement reinforces the eerie wrongness of all that takes place.
The philosophical pondering of Kurosawa is there as always. In Throne of Blood he is illustrating how we are often deluded into destroying ourselves and the people we love because of our own greed and paranoia. The violence and destruction that comes from the self-interested warring between individuals, factions and clans is a common theme for Kurosawa. It’s no mistake that the three Shakespeare plays Kurosawa interpreted are full of this sort of drama and tragedy. By translating the setting, twice to feudal Japan and once to post-WWII Japan, we see Kurosawa’s point that this pointless destruction of peace is timeless. And Kurosawa was always asking if, in addition to its timelessness, is it also unavoidable?
As is so often the case, Toshiro Mifune is amazing. I will always want to be him when I grow up.
Bonus: Tony Zhou did a new Every Frame a Painting installment all about how Kurosawa used movement in his films. I absolutely love the way Zhou teaches us about the art of film, as well as the fact that he is often championing my favorite filmmakers. I have some gripes about the way he frames the negative sides of his argument each time, but that would take too long to explain right now. Feel free to ask me about it, though.