For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Shakespeare on Film Movies, here’s a review of Hamlet (1996) by David of Blueprint Review.
Thanks again to James of Blogging By Cinema Light for choosing this month’s genre.
Next month’s genre has been chosen by Sally of 18 Cinema Lane and we will be reviewing our favorite Youth-Led Movies.
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of Jan by sending them to email@example.com
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Sally!
Let’s see what David thought of this movie:
Throne of Blood (1957)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay: Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryûzô Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Toshirô Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Isuzu Yamada
Running Time: 109 min
I first discovered the joys of Akira Kurosawa back when I was a precocious young teen. At around 13 or 14 I was getting interested in ‘serious’ cinema through top 100 lists and five star reviews in Empire magazine. I’d buy or record from TV all the Hollywood classics like Gone With the Wind and Casablanca whenever I came across them. One of the four TV channels at the time had a mini ‘season’ of Kurosawa’s films, so, hearing great things about the director, I recorded a few of them and these VHS tapes opened my eyes to world cinema, Japanese in particular. I’m not sure I fully appreciated the films as I was only just dipping my toes into watching films with subtitles, but the three I saw, Rashomon, Yojimbo and this, Throne of Blood, all impressed me nonetheless with their tight storytelling and visceral action. Yojimbo is the only film from the three I’ve revisited (more on that later), so it was with great pleasure that I finally got around to re-watching Throne of Blood, especially in glorious high definition as opposed to the hazy VHS copy I’d taped off the telly.
Where three of the films in this set are famous for heavily and clearly influencing specific classic American films (or Italian in one case), Throne of Blood is interesting in that it is an adaptation of a piece of Western literature, Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I had read the infamous play in school recently before that first viewing of Kurosawa’s film, so I found it particularly interesting to watch and it has stayed more vivid in my memory for probably that reason. Kurosawa relocates the action to feudal Japan and of course, due to language differences, loses the Bard’s prose. However, it is actually a rather faithful adaptation in terms of story.
General Washizu (Toshirô Mifune) is the Macbeth character, who comes across a witch that tells his fortune. She says, amongst other things, that he will become Lord of Cobweb Castle and that the son of his friend and fellow General Miki (Minoru Chiaki) will take over after him. Once elements of her prophecy become reality, Washizu, encouraged by his ambitious wife Lady Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), plots to make sure that his end will be fulfilled but Miki’s son’s won’t.
This is a hugely atmospheric film, shunning realism for eerie horror and symbolism. Indeed, although the story is based on a Shakespeare play, Kurosawa used Noh theatre to inspire the presentation. This gives the film a feel of a Japanese folk tale as much as a faithful adaptation of a piece of classic British theatre.
The atmosphere is drawn through Kurosawa’s usual mastery of framing as well as a healthy dose of his love of using the natural elements. Fog, mist and rain are used to great effect to shroud the film in mystery, dread and fear. Because the story is familiar and it opens with a prophecy of doom (the witch says that Washizu’s lordship won’t last long), the audience knows things aren’t likely to end well, so there’s a relentless shadow over the film which Kurosawa embraces at every turn amongst the treachery and greed of the lead characters.
Washizu begins to recognise the inevitability of his demise towards the end, which leads to one of the most powerful finales in cinema history. (*Spoiler for the rest of the paragraph – although it’s very famous) The character gets his comeuppance with a hail of arrows turning him and the walls around him into a pin cushion. Supposedly most of these (obviously not the one through his neck) were actually real arrows fired at and around Mifune (he had special armour on his body and skilled archers were used). This realism, the powerhouse performance and the way Kurosawa shoots the scene, visually trapping the character in the frame, create a brutal and exhilarating climax which is surely one of the most memorable movie deaths in history.
The only very minor issue I had with the film was that a couple of scenes where characters get lost in the woods or fog are drawn out to an almost comedic length. This is a tiny flaw in an otherwise masterful and tightly woven film though, which is one of, if not, the best Shakespeare adaptation I’ve ever seen.