look upon the ruins: throne of blood (1957)

Released in 1957, just three years after Seven Samurai, Akira Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood is not like any Shakespeare adaptation you’ve ever seen.  Dislocated from its traditional Scottish setting, the play is reconfigured into a Japanese historical context that, oddly enough, feels like a perfect fit.  Ambition, murder, obsession, madness, human frailty, otherworldly terror, and tragedy do not abide by cultural or geographical borders.  Kurosawa’s artistic gamble is one of the director’s most brilliant creations and one of his most visually haunting as well.  As Stephen Prince points out in his essential book on the filmmaker, The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa, Kurosawa didn’t simply adapt the play.  He reconfigured it into a proper Japanese and specifically Buddhist context, ridding the film of the play’s introspective moments and giving this more muscular adaptation a circular framework that imposes a supernatural nihilism drawing from the Noh theater traditions that a samurai warrior, such as Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), would have been familiar with.  Kurosawa and cinematographer Asakazu Nakai, who worked together a number of times, also give the film a bold, haunting look that will linger in your memory for some time.  Images of gnarled tree branches and wild thickets clot the frame on several occasions, reminding us that Washizu’s fate is immovable, resistant to Western ideas of free will.  Washizu is doomed from the opening moments, locked within the circular Hell of his life, and the film is appropriately structured to reflect this idea of cosmic fatalism, a theme that Kurosawa explored in a number of his films.

The video below is an experiment and something that turned out better than I expected, so I uploaded it.  I’m sure I’ll improve over time (because I’m going to do more of ’em) and perhaps even one day figure out how to make the pictures move.  But for now, think of this as my version of a Fotonovel.

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