Do I sound bitterr It’s not my intention. I’m so much a movie geek that I moved to New York City so I would be able to frequent the veritable cornucopia of movie theatres that have regular screenings of older titles and outside the norm features that just won’t show at your local googleplex. Back in my high school days, my friends and I used to go to the Sash Mill Cinema in Santa Cruz at least once a week to catch whatever old film noir or series of short films that would be playing. We all would have the Sash Mill calendar hanging in our rooms somewhere, so we were sure not to miss a single important title. The theatre closed in the early 1990s, while some of us had moved to Los Angeles to seek our fame and fortune. I was angry when I first learned the owners had closed the theatre, but eventually I came to realize I was lucky to have the theatre last as long as it did. Most rep houses closed half a decade before, shortly after the explosion of home video. Thankfully, in New York City, revival screenings not only still happen, but several locations are dedicated to keep the hope alive. One such theatre is the Film Forum, a not-for-profit venue which has dedicated one of its three screens to the exclusive showing of older features. Sometimes these features run solo, such as the recent engagements of The Producers and Metropolis. More often than not, however, films are scheduled into block themes. One such theme is the Kurosawa/Mifune series featuring all twelve features the two made together.
The series began with 1957’s Throne of Blood. Six years after the pair became world famous thanks to the Oscar winning Rashomon, Throne marked the duo’s sixth collaboration in almost a decade. A fond adaptor of the works of Shakespeare, Throne is Kurosawa’s magical transference of Macbeth to medieval Japan, with Mifune in the lead role as Washizu, the trusted general of a warlord, who slowly goes mad after his future is foretold by a spirit in the woods which surround his master’s castle.
Charlton Heston once remarked that Mifune would have conquered the acting world had he been able to act in English. With all due respect to Mr Heston, I would have to both agree and disagree. Mifune was a powerful presence who demanded your attention whenever he was on screen. However, I doubt Mifune would have ever been given the same types of opportunities in Hollywood he received in his homeland. Had Mifune come to the United States after the success of Rashomon or Seven Samurai, he would have wasted away his talents one one stereotypical role after another. His few forays into American filmmaking, long after becoming a legend, showed filmmakers over here had no idea how to use him properly. Mifune was a primal force to be reckoned with, and in films like Throne of Blood, that animal instinct shone brightly.
Kurosawa’s magic as a filmmaker is quite evident in Throne of Blood, where he is able to set a definite tone and atmosphere without luxury of a Hollywood budget. From the opening shot of dense fog obscuring a fallen fortress to the final scroll down a lonely piece of beam where the tale ends, you are under the mystical spell of one of the greatest filmmakers the world has ever known. When Washizu and his friend and comrade Miki come across the spirit in the woods, Kurosawa is able to, with nothing more than a pull in and a pull out, make both the spirit and his shack disappear. And in the final conflict, when Washiza is being fired upon, Kurosawa had real archers just off camera firing real arrows into Mifune. I can only imagine how amazing this film looked to the eyes of movie lovers a half century ago.
There are many films that I will not see until I have the chance to see them first in a movie theatre, and I am thankful to Cowboy Pictures, Janus Films and Film Forum for allowing this film fanatic to enjoy seeing Throne of Blood for the first time this way.
As if it really needs to be said, I give Throne of Blood an A+ for effort and an A+ for execution.Rating: A+