By Jerome Reuter
The films of Akira Kurosawa need no introduction. They are the definitive works of Japanese cinema. Not only do the represent the nations colorful past, they have gone on to influence generations of filmmakers. From Sergio Leone to George Lucas, many owe their visual style to this gifted auteur. His unique style of editing, and long tracking shots gave his films a very unique look, that can be found in several motion pictures, even today.
It’s almost impossible to say which one of his works was his greatest. Many would lean towards Seven Samurai, which would be a logical choice. It was so well respected; it would be remade in the United States as The Magnificent Seven. It’s his 1957 film Throne Of Blood however, that stands out among the rest in his filmography.
Adapting literature to the screen is never easy. Adapting the works of William Shakespeare is a challenge in of itself. Filmmakers such as Kenneth Branagh have continued to make films faithful to the bard’s source materiel. The risk is taking Shakespeare and stylizing the work, placing it in a new setting, and retelling the story. Sometimes, this has provided us with some amazing films. Julie Tamor’s Tidus is one of the best accounts of Tidus Andronicus. The less I say about Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, the better. Luhrmann has proved time and time again that he’s incapable of constructing a good narrative.
Which bring me to Throne Of Blood. Kurosawa takes Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and places it in Feudal Japan. The strength of this work lies heavily upon the Kurosawa’s ability to make the camera his principal storyteller. The use of black and white cinematography, gives the story a unique feel to it. He lets the natural elements of the scenes play out, giving us a narrative that places us in the moment. We are there, from start to finish in one of literatures greatest tragedies.
One thing you’ll notice about this one is the story itself. Although heavily based on Macbeth, it’s not a direct adaptation. Kurosawa utilizes several elements of Japanese folklore, as well as theatre. Case in point; instead of the three witches, we have a forest spirit. That’s why I feel this film is so great; he took the source material and made it his own. It encompasses everything the play had, the tragedy, manipulation, murder, and madness. It’s also retold through the eyes of someone interpreting it for another culture.
Staying true to the formula established in many of the old Greek tragedies, our story end and begins at the exact same location. That’s the power of the written word: it’s timeless, and every storyteller takes a different approach. This is a timeless work, and reminds us that power is the ultimate force of human corruption.