Throne of Blood (1957)

7 07 2008

This is a bit more in the vein of “usual Kurosawa” compared to my last two outings, Drunken Angel and Stray Dog but in my eyes, it is definitely in the same ballpark. Mifuni is at his usual over the top-ness here, and the plot is, understandably, equally over the top. On the other hand, there is a very formalistic aesthetic here, almost like Kurosawa’s take on Ozu, which predates Kobayashi’s Harakiri by a good couple of years. Perhaps it is slightly academic to praise a film merely on its compositions, but they really are wonderful. Considering what Kurosawa was working with (MacBeth and an actor who always yelled) he pulls it off in a very convincing fashion. This is definitely one of his better efforts.

Washizu Taketori and Miki Yoshiteru stumble upon a spirit in the woods after returning from an exhausting battle. The spirit informs of their futures, both of which look extremely bright. As they make their out of the forest, they are startled by how quickly the spirit’s visions become true. They are immediately promoted by the emperor. Both are flattered, but Washizu’s wife sees this as a perfect opportunity to climb the ranks of the feudal system, which would lead to murdering the same emperor that promoted Washizu.

Depending on one’s feelings towards Shakespeare, this is either extremely riveting or mildly entertaining. Personally, I find myself falling in between the two reactions. I really can’t see how anyone could find this film particularly boring or dull in anyway. It’s slow, certainly, but there’s enough of visual gracefulness for the experience to almost be inherently entertaining. Of course, it helps that there’s plenty of plot-oriented material for the less artsy audience to chew on. Still, most of the film’s strengths play off of the very formalistic aesthetic, which compliments the ritualistic sensibility of the time period.

What doesn’t compliment the time period, or even most of the story for that matter is Toshiro Mifune’s hammy performance. He seemed a bit more subdued than his usual self in Drunken Angel and Stray Dog but he’s fully absorbed by his usual shtick here. In all seriousness, did this guy never yell? I personally can’t think of any performance he’s ever given in which he doesn’t violently shout during the whole running time. Yes, there’s scenes that call for this, such as the finale, but other times, not so much. It’s sort of silly to think that anyone would yell when discussing plans to kill the emperor with their wife, but Mifune has no problem doing so here. Supposedly, this is the point, but it just intrudes on one of Kurosawa’s more enjoyable efforts. A good film, in spite of one exaggerated performance.



One response

29 12 2016

Mifune doesn’t yell in “A Wife’s Heart,” as a mild-mannered bank executive. You reviewed the film on this site. He tailored his performances to each role and the emotions of the character at different times in each role.

In an art-film horror movie based on MacBeth, Washizu is driven mad by the bad decisions he makes, aided and abetted by a witch or spirit, who seems to know his fate, and his ultra-ambitious wife who will stop at nothing. He’s in some terrifying situations, including being assassinated by hails of arrows. Mifune had been shown a Noh mask by Kurosawa that related to his character and he was expected to perform like that by the director, who delighted in his outsized emotionality in this and other films. I think this is what prompted all the teeth-baring in this movie and also in “Rashomon,” where Kurosawa showed him films of lions.

It took me quite a while to relax myself enough to encompass those insanely huge performances and enjoy Mifune’s bigness. But then, I also love Lon Chaney. Now Mifune is my favorite actor. He has the explosive force that can seem over the top, but his performances can also be sensitive and low-key, hilarious, or deadpan humorous. Not to speak of his incredible athleticism. He made lots of pictures, but it is mostly the Kurosawa ones that are available in the west, with subtitles, although I have also found a lot of others that gave me a more complete vision of this great actor. Please watch “Yojimbo” for a Mifune performance in which there is no yelling, but plenty of charisma.

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