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Throne Of Blood
cast: Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura, Minoru Chiaki, and Akira Kubo

director: Akira Kurosawa

104 minutes (PG) 1957
BFI DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 7/10
reviewed by Steven Hampton
Throne Of Blood (aka: Kumonosu-jo) is a skilful Japanese adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth. Perhaps fittingly, director Kurosawa adopts the studied practices of kabuki theatre to stage many of the most dramatic scenes, but I feel this detracts from the deeply felt emotional content of the Bard's timeless work. Because we are rarely allowed to identify with the ambitious characters of this war story, we can only observe their downfall without any sense of involvement.
   Although often praised for its startling imagery (the eerie Cobweb forest; dust and fury on the battlefields, in particular, as well as the hail of arrows that slays Toshiro Mifune's betrayed general), Throne Of Blood is after all shot in black and white. This works in favour of many scenes - the lingering banks of mist on the stark landscape, where rain pelts, wind rages and there's not a ray of sunshine in sight while tempers flare indoors.
   But, despite the visual devices that conjure up good and bad omens, the film has an unappealing aura, today. Especially as, unlike Shindo's creepy Onibaba (aka: The Hole, 1964) or Toho's monster movies, this drama has but a very slight fantasy genre element to snare modern cinephiles. Kurosawa's later film, the magnificent Ran (based on King Lear), makes fabulous use of colour film in addition to the sort of static formalism used here - and the full palette does make a surprising difference. I'm not suggesting Throne Of Blood is a 'bad' film, of course - just that in respect of its standing as a great screen spectacle, it has since dropped in the world cinephiles' ratings somewhat, particularly since production of the superior Ran (1985), and Kurosawa's impressive Kagemusha (aka: The Shadow Warrior, 1980).
   For me, not being much of a fan of overtly stagey or overly talky movies, it always boils down to this, really: show, don't tell. Although I grudgingly accept the argument that monochrome cinema can sometimes be very effective (there are many fine examples in the noir tradition), it's often no longer tolerated by today's viewers. As with Hitchcock's overrated Psycho (1960), we cannot see the colour of blood, and I believe it's essential in any film of violent tragedy such as this.
   The DVD is a full-screen presentation, plus biographies, a photo gallery, and film notes.

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