By William Benker
Throne of Blood – 1957 – dir. Akira Kurosawa
The power of prophecy and influence drives Akira Kurosawa’s revitalized Macbeth in Throne of Blood. In the midst of feudal Japan, Washizu (played by Kurosawa regular, Toshiro Mifune) bears witness to the complete corruption and dissection of himself by his own hand. Kurosawa’s grim look at the sheer power of outside influence strikes at the heart of Throne of Blood, truly expressing what is sacrificed when one loses himself in another’s foreboding. The intricate maze of self-deception, paranoia and selfishness leaves little to wonder at beside the rigid forest that guards Spider Web Castle.
Throne of Blood rests entirely in the hands of the beloved Toshiro Mifune. In just about every scene of the film, his character, Washizu, embodies the decimation of a man haunted by a dream. In true Macbeth style, after a grim prophecy is foretold to Washizu after a recent victory, Washizu sees his power rise beyond original expectations. In the wake of an upcoming promotion, the future appears to only involve more power. “They say dreams dreams manifest our basest desires,” his friend Miki says, as they laugh off the odd premonition found in the clouded woods. The deception lies in Washizu’s own head, as the audience is allowed to watch the downfall of the valiant hero, confused by his own lust for control, bound to the eerie influence of an evil spirit. Kurosawa’s message establishes the effect of outside influences on future possibilities. Washizu made it his future, and this is the key.
While the film lies entirely in the hands of Mifune, his actions and reactions take a wild decent into madness outside his control. What strikes a fervent chord is the propagated paranoia by his wife. Asaji, consumed by the spirit her husband told her of, logistically deciphers the prophecy towards Washizu’s current situation. It is she who lures him into the fool hearty plan of his own demise, harkening Eve and the forbidden apple. Washizu still believes in the loyalty of his own friend and lord, but its not enough to stop his wife and their joint paranoia from getting the best of him. They both fall victim to their superstitions. After the evil, mutinous plan is undertaken, the blood rests on both hands of the couple, and each will pay a gruesome penalty.
While Throne of Blood is molded by Mifune’s powerful acting, the metaphorical Spider Web Forest delivers a deliberate atmosphere to suit the murky haze of confusions and hubris. After the battle that Washizu and Miki single handedly turn around, the eerie forest consumes them and their prophecy is foretold. Clouds lurk over the landscape and trap the men in a maze of their own victory that sets the tone of this grim tale. And much like the prophecy itself, the dense forest provides a literal foreshadowing of the deception to come. The Spider Web forest is perhaps the only other character in the Kurosawa’s films that often times sets the stage for peace and solace, but has now turned to the center of confusion and clouded mystery. What surrounds Spider Web Castle personifies the unseen labyrinth of the mind and only through the eyes of the beholder may it embrace its role as a place of serenity or dark inner-turmoil.
What Kurosawa delivers to his audience in Throne of Blood is a classic morbid take on the power of influence. While Mifune battles with the idea of greater power and success, a clouded haze of paranoia and consumption surrounds him. Just as he veers from the successful battle he’s caught in a haze of self-satisfaction – but the prophecy of even greater power causes his demise. The beauty really lies in Kurosawa’s ability to contain the paranoia entirely in Mifune’s character, where the outside world is no longer looked upon through a subjective realm, but driven by the ill fated fortune at the hands of a devilish dream. Contained within Throne of Blood are some of Kurosawa’s most ghastly apparitions, and a most memorable display of a wandering forest. At the first sign of power comes a world of future battles of greed, lust and paranoia, all within oneself. And it is the beholder, no one else, who has the means to defeat these inner demons, or allow them to consume himself in a bitter defeat of his own undoing.