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Throne of Blood (1957)

By Lee Gardner | Posted

When you go looking for cinema's greatest interpreters of Shakespeare, be sure to search beyond Royal Academy grads and Brit-director rolls. Though he only took on the Bard twice, the late Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa built a perfect two-for-two record. His 1985 King Lear adaptation, Ran, is better-known in this country, but Throne of Blood, his post-Rashomon adaptation of Macbeth, is better -- a near-flawless blend of the Scottish play, Japanese Noh drama, and the director's inimitable visual verve. Toshiro Mifune, Kurosawa's actorly alter ego, tears into the role of Washizu, the ambitious feudal warrior tempted into murdering his way to the top by supernatural predictions and the urgings of his wife, Asaji (an uncanny Isuzu Yamada). Kurosawa and company can't rely on the source's time-honored iambs, but the director's visual poetry more than compensates. Shrouded in mists and rain and beautifully photographed, Throne of Blood is that rare Shakespeare take memorable for its onscreen images: the eerie Noh ghost who stands in for the play's three witches; the forest on the march (never captured better on film); and Washizu's inevitable end, the warrior besieged by flights of arrows that seem to materialize instantly, out of nowhere, to close off any hope of escaping his fate.

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