Sunday, November 15, 2009

侍映画 - Eiga no Mifune

As you might have guessed, I love Samurai films. Particularly Samurai films with Toshiro Mifune. Now and then I am lucky enough to catch a classic Samurai film in Little Tokyo or when they have a Samurai Film Festival at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood. I am a member of the Screen Actors Guild and Film Society. As such, I am fortunate enough to see many film screenings and meet many industry professionals. Recently I have been running into Samurai film buffs and have been engaged in many great conversations. At the recent screening of The Last Station ( a film about the final days of Leo Tolstoy ) I got into a deep talk about amazing scenes from classic Samurai Films. There are so many memorable scenes largely with the legendary Toshiro Mifune and other greats of his era that if I had to name one for this month I will refer to the 1957 Akira Kurosawa classic THRONE OF BLOOD aka Kumonosu-jō - The Spider Web Castle.

If you are not familiar with THRONE OF BLOOD it's basically Shakespeare's Macbeth set in feudal Japan. Toshiro Mifune plays Washizu Taketoki who essentially murders his way to becoming lord. He will stop at nothing to attain power and with the manipulations of his power hungry wife he is driven over the edge by the prohpecies of a ghostly encounter in the Spider Web Forrest. A phantom ghost has promised Tatetoki "You shall reign until the tree's rise against you." This quote comes back to haunt him when his castle is under siege. During the final siege, a moment of cinematic genius fills the screen when Mifune's Tatetoki looks out a gun port and sees in literal LSD vision tree's encroaching on his castle. This freaks Mifune's character out and sends this murderous lord into a panic and ultimately seals his doom.

Now I am not sure if Kurosawa was experimenting with hallucinatic drugs at the time or it just happened that this was a popular theme during the 1960's. But I can say the blurry sight of trees rushing the castle while the quote from the ghost plays out brilliantly!

I am glad I didn't see the tree scene when I was a teenager!
I would have freaked! In any case Throne of Blood is a brilliant use of the Macbeths framework and an excellent adaptation. This film was made on the slopes of Mount Fuji and makes an extensive use of fog in many of the exterior scenes. Filmed in black & white, Akira's creative use of natural elements and dramatic effects gives you a sense of being there.
If you see this for the first time be sure to screen a copy of Akira Kurosawa's RAN. But we'll talk about that another time! In the menatime I highly recommend Throne of Blood. You won't be dissappointed!


  1. That tree scene was pretty good. Kurosawa really liked that location on the slopes of Mt. Fuji as he did it for Ran also. I've been on a Mifune kick the last couple of weekends watching Shinsengumi, Hidden Castle, and Samurai Rebellion.

  2. I loved how dark this film was. Akira must have loved the character of Washizu's wife enough to have ressurrected her again in RAN.
    You write great in depth reviews I'll stick to my favorite scenes.