Written by: Lyle Horowitz on April 15th, 2004
Theatrical Release Date: JAPAN; January 15th, 1957
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writers: Shinobou Hashimoto, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Uguni, William Shakespeare
Cast: Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura
DVD Released: May 27th, 2003
Approximate Running Time: 105 Minutes
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Non Anamorphic (Full Screen)
DVD Release: Criterion
Region Coding: Region 1 NTSC
Retail Price: $39.99
Going into Throne of Blood, I didn’t know what to expect. Earlier that year, I had seen Kurosawa’s highly-acclaimed, The Seven Samurai, which many consider to be his best work. I, however, thought the film was overrated and overlong, and I was very hesitant to see anymore of Kurosawa’s work, worried that I would be let down, like I was with Seven Samurai. However, my opinion on Akira Kurosawa’s work changed forever when I was hanging out at the local video store, and the manager decided to put on Yojimbo. We ordered some pizza and watched Yojimbo on the tiny 19’’ Hollywood Video TV, with the sound almost on mute so the customer’s didn’t freak out when Mifune was screaming obscenities in Japanese, but no matter how bad the conditions were for watching this film, I was now hooked on Kurosawa.
The following week, I purchased Yojimbo and Throne of Blood, the latter, a film which I had never seen before, but read about in one of my favorite horror film magazines: Rue Morgue. Japanese horror is one of my favorite sub-genres, and I was intrigued by the story of Throne of Blood, based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth, one of my favorite books. Although Throne of Blood is based on Macbeth, it also takes many liberties, which, in my opinion, make it even better than Shakespeare’s original story. Throne of Blood is basically Macbeth in a feudal Japan samurai setting (Many films have used different locations and periods with the structure of Macbeth, such as 1991’s Men of Respect with John Turturro and 1998’s A Simple Plan with Bill Paxton) with more emphasis on the supernatural.
Toshirô Mifune is on-par with Humphrey Bogart in 1948’s Treasure of the Sierra Madre creating am insane paranoid character, suspicious and naive. Isuzu Yamada is excellent Lady Asaji Washizu (a.k.a. Lady Macbeth) and she stars in the second most memorable sequence in the film (The first being the dramatic climax, with amazing visual effects for a film made in the 1950’s) where she is washing her hands clean of the blood, or guilt, but with no water and no soap. There are many things to admire in Throne of Blood, but most importantly, Kurosawa’s intense visual style and attention to detail, and the amazing performance by Toshirô Mifune, who is at the top of his game.
Criterion offers up another nice B&W transfer. It is presented in it’s original 1.33:1 Non Anamorphic Aspect Ratio. This is the best the film has ever looked. The audio is available with it’s original Japanese sound and audio track, presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono.
The disc contains some nice extras. Two alternative subtitle translations: a new version from Japanese-film translator Linda Hoagland, and Kurowawa expert Donald Richie’s subtitles, which I preferred to Hoagland’s. Also included is a theatrical trailer, an essay written by Stephen Price, and an audio commentary (I can honestly tell you this is the BEST audio commentary I have ever heard) by Michael Jeck. Jeck is full of enthusiasm, and shares a wealth of knowledge with the viewer on the film.
The extras may seem slim, especially for the price of the disc and compared to other Criterion DVDs, but these are all of the extras they could salvage for the film, and they are worthwhile extras indeed. You owe it to yourself, fan or not of Akira Kurosawa, to see Throne of Blood. This film is visually stunning, and the most entertaining foreign language film I’ve ever seen. Highly recommended.