Film / Throne of Blood

If you choose the path of bloodshed, then climb to the pinnacle of evil!
If you choose to build a mountain of corpses, build its summit as high as you dare!
If you will make blood flow, let it be a river Ė no, an ocean of blood!
— The Forest Spirit, to Washizu

Throne of Blood (Kumonosu Jō, "Spider Web Castle"), is Akira Kurosawa's version of Macbeth. It stars Toshiro Mifune as Washizu, a Japanese warlord who meets a strange spirit who gives him some dark ideas about taking the place of his lord. Kurosawa fuses Shakespeare's plot with elements from Noh theater, and sets the story at an unspecified time and place in Sengoku-era Japan. The Macduff subplot is left out, leading to a different, but more thematic end for the Macbeth figure.

In 2010, the film was adapted as a play for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

Throne of Blood includes examples of:

  • Ambition Is Evil: The movie's main theme.
  • Animal Motifs: Washizu's banner bears a centipede while Miki's has a white rabbit.
  • Annoying Arrows: Washizu gets shot full of arrows at the end of the film and still manages to walk toward his attackers. He is eventually felled by an arrow through the chest and another through the throat. The Criterion Collection version has an essay defending the plausibility of the scene, given his armor and the placement of the fatal arrow.
  • Bearer of Bad News: Messengers keep running into the various castles to deliver bad news, especially for Washizu towards the end.
  • Big Bad: Asaji Washizu manipulates her husband's crimes throughout the film.
    • Bigger Bad: The mysterious witch in the forest manipulates everyone.
  • Completely Different Title: The Japanese title is Spider Web Castle, but it was distributed in English-speaking markets and is still referred to in English by the catchier Throne of Blood.
  • Decapitation Presentation: The soldier who returns with Miki's head wrapped up in a sheet is interrupted before he can reveal the head.
  • Determinator: Even after being shot full of arrows, including one in his throat, Washizu still remains standing until the very end and even tries to go for his sword as he dies.
  • Driven to Suicide: Averted, actually. The last scene with Asaji (Lady Macbeth) is the "out, damned spot" scene, and there is no exposition in the play indicating that she has killed herself.
    • Miki's wife, however...
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Miki's horse is all jumpy as Miki and son prepare to journey to Washizu's castle.
  • Expy: Arguably the whole point of the movie is to transplant Shakespeare's version of Macbeth's life into a feudal Japanese setting.
  • Extreme Doormat: Washizu. Dear God, Washizu. The man is so gullible around his wife that she has him wrapped around her little finger.
  • Fallen Hero: Washizu.
  • Heir Club for Men: Washizu is perfectly happy to have Miki's son as his heir, until Lady Asaji reveals she is pregnant.
  • Henpecked Husband: Washizu, possibly even more than Macbeth.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: Washizu brags to his men about the prophecy that claims he canít lose in battle unless the forest itself moves against the castle. While this temporarily boosts morale, as soon as the forest does begin to move towards the castle, his men see the writing on the wall and turn against him.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Lord Tsuzuki. Washizu is also hopelessly gullible where his wife is concerned.
  • Human Pincushion: Washizu at the end of the film, after his archers turn on him.
  • Kabuki Sounds: Much of the score is like this.
  • Lady Macbeth: Asaji (not surprising, since she's based on the Trope Namer).
  • Lonely at the Top: Being king sure does seem like a bummer.
  • Mobile Shrubbery: Soldiers camouflaging themselves as trees, straight from the source material.
  • Ominous Fog: In spades. Washizu and Miki get lost in such a fog before finding the evil spirit in the woods.
  • Ominous Japanese Chanting: A song by an ominous-sounding chorus bookends the film, telling of how a mighty castle once stood on a now-blasted landscape, before being brought down by the corruption of those who lived in it.
  • Out, Damned Spot!: Isuzu Yamada does a terrific mad scene where she sits in a trance, trying to wash imaginary blood off her hands.
  • Rain of Arrows: The first one comes as a surprise while Washizu is haranguing his soldiers. Then a lot more come.
  • Red Right Hand: Even though it was the style of the time, Lady Asaji's shaved off and repainted eyebrows give her such an inhuman look. Also, keen-eyed viewers will notice that she never blinks throughout the entire film (a direction from Kurosawa).
  • Samurai Ponytail: Mifune sports a longer and fairly neat one near the top of his head, as a sign of his high rank.
  • Sanity Slippage: Washizu starts seeing ghosts, while his wife cracks completely.
  • Seppuku: The traitor mentioned at the beginning of the film commits this while in captivity, spraying a ridiculous amount of blood on the wall.
  • Silk Hiding Steel: Asaji's calm and soft spoken demeanor contrasts with her drive and ambition.
  • Sliding Scale of Free Will vs. Fate: Washizu is caught up in a prophecy that he can't avoid, from the moment he is given the title of Lord of North Castle, as well as in a cycle of Klingon Promotion a, given that Lord Tsuzuki had killed his previous lord to aquire his position. At the same time, he is given choices, whether or not to dispose of his trusted allies, and he picks the wrong decision each time, because he's so weak at the hands of his wife.
  • Soft-Spoken Sadist: Lady Asaji before her Villainous Breakdown.
  • Spear Carrier: A group of spearmen appear as a Greek Chorus to mark Act Breaks.
  • Title Drop: Of the Japanese title, of course, several times.
  • Yamato Nadeshiko: Lady Asaji is probably the best example of how this trope can be played villainously. She barely moves during the entire first half of the film, and always takes a polite tone with her husband, yet every word that pours from her mouth is honey laced with venom.
  • You Have Failed Me and You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Washizu kills the assassin he sent to collect Miki's head. This is either to get rid of someone who knows too much, or because the assassin failed to kill Miki's son as well (or both).