The second movie in the BFI’s Kurosawa box set, Throne of Blood (1957) was a total mystery to me. I hadn’t seen Seven Samurai, but I at least knew the rough plot outline. All I knew about Throne of Blood was what I could figure out from the cover, which was that some liberties had been taken with the original Japanese, ‘Spiderweb Castle’. Or as the subtitles put it more fustily, ‘Cobweb Castle’. About ten minutes in though, it became clear this was Kurosawa doing Macbeth, and knocking it out of the park.
Unlike Seven Samurai, which looks weirdly modern (aside from the colour palette), Throne of Blood is frequently shot as if it’s a stage production – which makes sense, given the source material, but apparently Kurosawa wanted to incorporate Noh theatre, and the result is fantastic. I kept expecting the scenery to get shuffled around in the background. The exterior shots for the castle were done on Mt. Fuji to get natural fog (I thought they’d just used all the dry ice in Tokyo). Toshiro Mifune (in another of his 16 collaborations with Kurosawa) spends almost the entire movie with his eyes bulging out of his head on the brink of madness. The forest ghost that replaces the witches is creepy as hell. The foley guy must have worked over time doing all the wind.
Watching the finale – which, I don’t know, the movie is literally Macbeth so I don’t know if spoilers count for anything – I suddenly remembered they shot it with real archers firing real arrows, which is why Mifune looks like he is freaking out.
In short, it’s way better than Seven Samurai, perhaps one of the best films I’ve seen. More compact (by around 100 minutes), more atmospheric, more Mifune – he’s in almost every scene, and therefore has to carry the entire movie on the back of his growing madness.
Throne of Blood / 蜘蛛巣城 (Kumonosu-jō)
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Japanese Release Date: 15th January 1957
Version Watched: The 2014 BFI Blu-Ray, Akira Kurosawa: Samurai Collection, 110 min