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In 1957, Akira Kurosawa gambled on the international goodwill secured by his boldly innovative and critically acclaimed films of the previous seven years: Rashomon, Ikiru, and Seven Samurai. But Throne of Blood (1957) saw him doing something still more daring: repurposing Macbeth by marrying Shakespearean tragedy to the jidaigeki period drama. What he wrought turned out to be one of the finest cinematic adaptations of the Bard ever made.

As any retelling of Macbeth must, Throne leans heavily on the acting skills of its two leads, who must convincingly evoke both devoted spouses and conspiratorial partners in regicide. Two unforgettable performers provide this anchoring of the tale: Japanese acting legend and frequent Kurosawa collaborator Toshirô Mifune and scene-stealing standout Isuzu Yamada both bring physical and emotional dynamism to their roles.

Clocking in at a very economical one hour and fifty minutes, Throne of Blood distills its longer source into its narrative and thematic essences, reminding us why this tale of malevolent prophecies, murder, and doom still resonates all these centuries later. For Kurosawa as for Shakespeare, the real tragedies lie in ourselves, in our gullible willingness to read the world through the lens of our own ambitions and self-regard, all the while ignoring its primal chaos. Where Kurosawa chooses to alter Shakespeare’s original vision, he does so with an ambitious goal in mind: to create a work suitable not only for Japanese moviegoers, but also for a global audience already growing weary of Shakespearean cliches. Finding parallels between the dynastic upheavals of medieval Scotland and the warring-states period of feudal Japan, Kurosawa took most seriously the notion often attributed to Mark Twain: history does not repeat, but instead rhymes. It is the rhyming of the past and present, and of character types as elemental as storytelling itself, that drive Kurosawa’s reinvention of Macbeth into something that both elevates and, in some respects, transcends, its source material.

Given Shakespeare’s own penchant for liberally borrowing then transforming the literary, mythical, and historical influences in his own plays, Kurosawa’s own audacious take is very much in keeping with Shakespeare’s own process—a fearless commitment not to some unattainable ideal of originality, but to wholly unique visions of our shared narrative inheritances.

Are you interested in “just” seeing this movie? Additional showtimes can be found here.


Cinema Classics Seminars offer an entertaining and engaging way to learn more about some of the true classics of world cinema. All students receive an introductory lecture before the film and a guided discussion after the film. In addition, those in attendance receive a ticket to see it on the big screen, as well as popcorn and a drink. Please note: the screening associated with this seminar will be open to the public, as well.

If you are unable to attend this seminar on site, you can rent and stream it in our Remote Classroom beginning a week after the event date.

Please email BMFI Programs and Education Coordinator Jill Malcolm with any questions.

 


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