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Film / Throne of Blood

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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 (蜘蛛巣城, Kumonosu-Jō, lit. 'Spider's Web Castle'), is a 1957 film by Akira Kurosawa, and is 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 William 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, effectively bringing things full circle by nature of its roots.

Kurosawa would release two more films based on Shakespeare's tragedies: The Bad Sleep Well, a much looser adaptation of Hamlet, and Ran, which transplants King Lear to Sengoku Japan just as Throne of Blood did for Macbeth.

Throne of Blood includes examples of:

  • Adaptation Relationship Overhaul: Both Washizu and his wife, Lord and Lady Macbeth, are shown having a colder marriage in the film, when in the Shakespeare original, they have a loving marriage, and indeed are arguably the happiest married couple in Shakespeare. The "Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow" speech is Adapted Out, and Washizu doesn't lament how terrible it is that he can't grieve for her.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Tsuzuki, the King Duncan analogue, is presented as being an usurper who deposed the previous lord and isn't that different from Washizu, as his wife insists.
  • Adaptational Wimp: Macbeth is a Trope Codifier for Villainous Valour, who marched into duel with Macduff despite knowing the prophecy came true and that he is a man of woman born, declaring that "Yet I will try the last". Here Washizu gets fragged by his own soldiers and he dies begging pathetically.
  • 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.
  • Bloody Hallucinations of Guilt: Asaji freaks out over blood only she can see after she manipulates her husband into killing Lord Tsuzuki.
  • Composite Character: The three Weird Sisters are combined into one single entity: the Forest Spirit.
  • Decapitation Presentation: The soldier who returns with Miki's head wrapped up in a sheet is interrupted before he can reveal the head.
  • Demoted to Extra: Macduff's counterpart Noriyasu is not nearly as important. Washizu never targets his family and so never faces him. At most Noriyasu is the second-in-command of Kuniharu. It is his demotion in importance, ultimately meaning he and Washizu never battle each other, that ultimately contributes to Washizu's skill as a warrior being an Informed Attribute.
  • 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, unlike in the play, there is no exposition 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.
  • Extreme Doormat: Washizu. Dear God, Washizu. The man is so gullible around his wife that she has him wrapped around her little finger.
  • Foreboding Fleeing Flock: The guards remark that a pack of rats have been seen fleeing the castle, at about the turning point where Washizu loses control.
  • Greek Chorus: Four guards comment on Lord Washizu's fortunes.
  • Heir Club for Men: Washizu is perfectly happy to have Miki's son as his heir, until Lady Asaji reveals she is pregnant. The child is stillborn.
  • 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.
  • Informed Attribute: Washizu is supposed to be a great warrior and prophesized to never lose a battle until a certain seemingly unlikely condition occurs. But every battle he fights takes place before the prophecy is made (before he even appears on camera, for that matter), and the fights he gets into consist of murdering three defenseless men, followed by being shot by his own subordinates. His skill as a soldier and commander of soldiers is never shown on screen.
  • Kabuki Sounds: Much of the score is like this.
  • Lady Macbeth: Asaji, who manipulates her husband into killing his rival and then a whole bunch of other crimes to cover up the first one. Not surprising, since she's based on the Trope Namer.
  • Lonely at the Top: Being daimyo sure does seem like a bummer.
  • Meaningful Look: When Washizu returns his lord's coffin to Forest Castle, Miki gives him a subtle look of tired contempt that says "So. This is what you've come to. Very well." before wheeling his horse about and escorting his new lord in.
  • Mobile Shrubbery: Soldiers camouflaging themselves as trees, straight from the source material.
  • Murder Makes You Crazy: After killing Lord Tsuzuki, both Washizu and his wife Lady Asaji who manipulated him into committing the murder, slowly begin to lose their minds because of the guilt they feel.
  • No Historical Figures Were Harmed: Despite the explicit Shakespearean adaptation, the characteristics of the two main characters (Washizu/Macbeth and Miki/Banquo) aesthetically invokes some real-life Sengoku Period figures:
    • Washizu can be seen as a Composite Character of Akechi Mitsuhide (who turned traitor against his lord, Oda Nobunaga) and Toyotomi Hideyoshi (Nobunaga's general, who rose out of obscurity as a mere foot soldier to rule Japan after Nobunaga's death).
      • Mitsuhide, much like Washizu, would himself be betrayed and killed by his inferiors when things go south for him.
      • In turn, Washizu's manic energy also tended to be a trait of Hideyoshi in fiction (not to mention that Washizu having his successors (the Mikis) killed is something Hideyoshi actually did to his nephew Hidetsugu and his whole family, all to ensure his son Hideyori succeeds).
    • Miki, despite ending up dead, is made up to look like Tokugawa Ieyasu (who ended the Sengoku era and founded the last shogunate). In-story, his son Yoshiteru/Fleance survives—much like Ieyasu's son Hidetada.
  • Non-Indicative Name: As a result of the Completely Different Title in the English release. You might think Throne of Blood would feature a Cool Chair, stained (perhaps metaphorically) by Kunimara's blood, but since chairs aren't commonly used in Japan, the idea of a throne isn't really present in the culture either.
  • Ominous Fog: In spades. Washizu and Miki get lost in such a fog before finding the evil spirit in the woods. The movie was shot on the fog-shrouded slopes of Mt. Fuji, a perfect setting for a movie about uncertainty and prophecy.
  • Ominous Latin Chanting: 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.
  • Only I Can Kill Him: Subverted. Washizu is killed by his own nameless Evil Minions - indeed we do not even see the faces of the archers who loose the first arrow and the last. In the original Macbeth, the Villain Protagonist died in a duel with a major character, who has no equivalent in the film.
  • Prophecy Twist:
    • Lacks the No Man of Woman Born bit, Macduff being Adapted Out, but keeps the Mobile Shrubbery. Washizu believes he's invulnerable until the forest comes to the castle, per the witch's prophecy. When the forest actually does appear to come to the castle, his men mutiny and kill him.
    • Washizu's death prophecy predicts he will never lose a battle until the forest comes to the castle. But he also never wins any battles, because he doesn't fight any battles.
  • Protagonist Journey to Villain: Washizu. Since the film is based on Macbeth, this is not a surprise.
  • Race Lift: Since the film is based on Macbeth (complete with a setting change), the white Scottish characters of the original play are instead Japanese.
  • Rain of Arrows: The first one comes as a surprise while Washizu is haranguing his soldiers. Then a lot more come.
  • Rasputinian Death: Washizu takes at least 20 arrows to the chest and still tries to walk and fight, finally falling to an over-dramatic arrow through the neck. The whole scene is wild.
  • 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: One of many Kurosawa films with Toshiro Mifune as a badass samurai. In this one he's a Villain Protagonist who kills his lord.
  • 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.
  • Scrubbing Off the Trauma: Lady Asaji is shown having gone mad with guilt at having manipulated her husband Washizu into committing crimes and the murder of Lord Tsuzuki, sitting in a trance, trying to wash imaginary blood off her hands.
  • 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, 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.
  • Stop Trick: Featured near the end, when Washizu is shot through the throat.
  • Sympathetic Murderer: Washizu, at first. He's clearly in shock after he murders his lord. By the time he's sent men to kill Miki, however, he stops showing remorse and starts showing fear of getting caught.
  • These Hands Have Killed: In an Homage to Macbeth, Lady Asaji is unable to wash the blood off her hands.
  • Title Drop: Of the Japanese title (蜘蛛巣城, Kumonosu-jō, lit. 'Spider Web Castle'), of course, several times.
  • Tsuchigumo and Jorogumo: The movie exchanges Birnam Wood for Spider's Web Forest, possibly invoking these creatures from Japanese folklore.
  • Uncanny Valley Makeup: Lady Asaji's makeup, coupled with her never blinking onscreen, has this effect.
  • Uriah Gambit: Asaji believes Washizu's promotion to lead the assault (while Miki guards Washizu's castle) is an excuse to have Washizu killed.
  • Villain Protagonist: Being an adaptation of Macbeth, it's about a once-admirable samurai who kills his lord and takes his place, then kills a bunch of other people to keep that place.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Both the Washizus have this happen to them. After being convinced by his wife to murder Lord Tsuzuki, the husband, Taketoki, becomes increasingly paranoid and starts seeing hallucinations, while the wife herself, Asaji, completely snaps and is last seen trying to clean the stench of nonexistent blood off her hands. Being as this is Macbeth WITH SAMURAI, this was very much intentional.
  • Whole-Plot Reference: Arguably the whole point of the movie is to transplant Shakespeare's version of Macbeth's life into a feudal Japanese setting.
  • 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).