Thursday, January 16, 2014


I first saw Akira Kurosawa's 1957 film THRONE OF BLOOD at the University of Notre Dame's Browning Cinema a couple years ago. I was impressed by the vividly creepy atmosphere Kurosawa injected into the story, and how darkly beautiful the film was visually. Criterion has just released THRONE OF BLOOD on Blu-ray.

THRONE OF BLOOD is usually referred to as an adaptation of William Shakespeare's Macbeth. I would say that Kurosawa was certainly inspired by the Bard's famous play, but I don't think THRONE is a straight adaptation. It is a haunting combination of samurai spectacle, Noh theater, and human corruption. Legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune is the warrior who, influenced by a prophecy from a forest spirit and coerced by his cunning wife, gains power by betraying and killing those closest to him.

It's not right to classify THRONE OF BLOOD as a horror film, but it certainly has enough of the elements of that genre. There's a haunted forest, ghostly apparitions, expressionistic black & white cinematography, and more fog than all the Roger Corman/Edgar Allen Poe movies combined. There's also a magnificent horror-type performance by Isuzu Yamada as Asaji, the wife of Mifune's warlord. The chillingly impassive Yamada steals the show playing one of the most diabolic female characters in cinema history.

I realize that most Western audiences won't give a film like THRONE OF BLOOD a chance. There's a lot of people out there that will never go out of their way to view a foreign film. But THRONE isn't really as strange or exotic as you might think. Just like Macbeth, the film is about humanity's greed for power. All of Akira Kurosawa's films are stunning to look at, but it is the individual characters in them that makes the stories stay with you.

Criterion had already released THRONE OF BLOOD on DVD about ten years ago. This Blu-ray version carries over the extras from the earlier release, including a booklet written by film historian Stephen Prince, two alternate subtitle translations by Japanese film translator Linda Hoaglund and Kurosawa expert Donald Richie (by the way, this film is NOT dubbed in English), an audio commentary by Michael Jeck, and a episode of the "Toho Masterworks" series AKIRA KUROSAWA: IT IS WONDERFUL TO CREATE, which concerns the making of THRONE OF BLOOD.

The Criterion Blu-ray of THRONE OF BLOOD simply looks spectacular. I did not own the earlier Criterion DVD--but I'm sure a lot of film buffs did, and I'm sure a lot of them are not very happy that Criterion has come out with this upgrade. Criterion titles are not exactly cheap, and the company has been re-releasing a lot of their older product in new Blu-ray transfers. I know of some fans who have hundreds of Criterion titles (I've only got about 20 or so), and I've heard of people who actually buy every single Criterion release. Having to buy a favorite Criterion title again just to get the upgraded Blu-ray picture quality, especially if the extras are basically the same, is certainly going to rub some consumers the wrong way. This THRONE OF BLOOD Blu-ray also comes with a DVD containing all the same material--this is now standard practice for all Criterion releases. Some have complained about this as well, but as someone who still owns a number of DVD-playing products, it's nice to have the DVD format as a bonus. Now....if I had already owned THRONE OF BLOOD on DVD, would I have bought the Blu-ray? Well....probably not.

Akira Kurosawa is one of the greatest of all film directors, and THRONE OF BLOOD is one of the greatest of all his works. It deserves to be in any true film buff's video collection.

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