Throne of Blood

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Throne of Blood
Throne of Blood Japanese 1957 poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Screenplay by
Based on Macbeth
by William Shakespeare (uncredited)
Produced by
Cinematography Asakazu Nakai
Edited byAkira Kurosawa
Music by Masaru Sato
Distributed byToho
Release date
  • 15 January 1957 (1957-01-15)(Japan)
Running time
110 minutes
Box office¥198 million [1]

Throne of Blood (蜘蛛巣城, Kumonosu-jō, lit.'Spider Web Castle') is a 1957 Japanese historical drama film co-written and directed by Akira Kurosawa, with special effects by Eiji Tsuburaya. The film transposes the plot of William Shakespeare's play Macbeth from Medieval Scotland to feudal Japan, with stylistic elements drawn from Noh drama. The film stars Toshiro Mifune and Isuzu Yamada in the lead roles, modelled on the characters Macbeth and Lady Macbeth.


As with the play, the film tells the story of a warrior who assassinates his sovereign at the urging of his ambitious wife. Kurosawa was a fan of the play and intended to make his own adaptation for several years, delaying it after learning of Orson Welles' Macbeth (1948). Among his changes was the ending, which required archers to fire arrows around Mifune. The film was shot around Mount Fuji and Izu Peninsula.

Despite the change in setting and language and numerous creative liberties, Throne of Blood is often considered one of the better film adaptations of the play. It won two Mainichi Film Awards, including Best Actor for Mifune.


Generals Miki and Washizu are samurai commanders and friends under Lord Tsuzuki, a local lord, who reigns in the castle of the Spider's Web Forest. After defeating the lord's enemies in battle, they return to Tsuzuki's castle. On their way through the thick forest surrounding the castle, they meet an evil spirit, who foretells their future. The spirit tells them that today Washizu will be named Lord of the Northern Garrison and Miki will become commander of the first fortress. The spirit then foretells that Washizu eventually will become Lord of Spider's Web Castle, and finally she tells Miki that his son will become lord of the castle. When the two return to Tsuzuki's estate, he rewards them with exactly what the spirit had predicted. As Washizu discusses this with Asaji, his wife, she manipulates him into making the second part of the prophecy come true by murdering Tsuzuki when he visits.

Washizu kills Tsuzuki with the help of his wife, who gives drugged sake to the lord's guards, causing them to fall asleep. When Washizu returns in shock at his deed, Asaji grabs the bloody spear and puts it in the hands of one of the three unconscious guards. She then yells "intruder" through the courtyard, and Washizu slays the guard before he has a chance to plead his innocence. Tsuzuki's vengeful son Kunimaru and Noriyasu, an advisor to Tsuzuki, both suspect Washizu as the traitor and try to warn Miki, who refuses to believe what they are saying about his friend. Under Asaji's influence, Washizu is unsure of Miki's loyalty, but chooses Miki's son as his heir because he and Asaji have no child of their own. Washizu plans to tell Miki and his son about his decision at a grand banquet. However, Asaji tells him that she is pregnant, which leaves him with a quandary concerning his heir; now Miki and his son have to be eliminated.

During the banquet, Washizu is agitated because Miki and his son have not shown up. Washizu drinks sake copiously. He loses his self-control when Miki's ghost suddenly appears. In a delusional panic, he reveals what has happened to Miki by exclaiming that he is willing to slay Miki a second time, going so far as unsheathing his sword and striking the air over Miki's mat. Asaji, attempting to pick up the pieces of Washizu's blunder, tells the guests that he is only drunk and that they must retire for the evening. One of Washizu's men arrives carrying a bundle (presumably the severed head of Miki) and tells Washizu and Asaji that Miki's son escaped. Washizu kills the assassin.

Later, Washizu is distraught to learn his heir is stillborn. In order to ascertain the outcome of the impending battle with his foes, Washizu returns to the forest to summon the evil spirit. The spirit tells him that he will not be defeated in battle until "the trees of the Spider's Web Forest rise against the castle". Washizu believes this is impossible and becomes confident of his victory. Washizu tells his troops of the evil spirit's prophecy, and they share his confidence of victory. The next morning, Washizu is awakened by the screams of Asaji's attendants. Striding into his wife's quarters, he finds Asaji in a semi-catatonic state, trying to wash clean an imaginary stain and stench of blood from her hands. Distracted by the sound of his troops, Washizu leaves to investigate. Washizu is told by a panicked soldier that the trees of Spider's Web Forest "have risen to attack us".

Washizu tries to muster his troops, but they ignore his commands. The troops begin firing arrows at Washizu, and when he tells them that to kill the Great Leader is treason, they accuse Washizu of the murder of his predecessor. Washizu finally succumbs to his arrow wounds, attempting to draw his sword as he dies, just as his enemies approach the castle gates. It is then revealed that the attacking force had used trees, cut from the forest during the night, to shield their advance onto the castle.


Toshiro Mifune stars as Washizu. Toshiro Mifune 1954 Scan10003 160913.jpg
Toshiro Mifune stars as Washizu.
ActorCharacter Macbeth analogue
Toshiro Mifune Washizu Taketoki (鷲津 武時) Macbeth [2]
Isuzu Yamada Washizu Asaji (鷲津 浅茅) Lady Macbeth [3]
Takashi Shimura Odakura Noriyasu (小田倉 則保) Macduff [4]
Akira Kubo Miki Yoshiteru (三木 義照) Fleance [5]
Hiroshi TachikawaTsuzuki Kunimaru (都築 国丸) Malcolm [6]
Minoru Chiaki Miki Yoshiaki (三木 義明) Banquo [5] [7]
Takamaru SasakiLord Tsuzuki Kuniharu (都築 国春) King Duncan [8]
Kokuten Kōdō First General
Sachio Sakai Washizu's samurai
Yū Fujiki Washizu's samurai
Ueda KichijiroWashizu's workman
Takeshi Katō Tsuzuki's samurai
Shōbun Inoue Tsuzuki's messenger
Asao Koike Tsuzuki's messenger
Isao Kimura Messenger (Phantom)
Seiji Miyaguchi Messenger (Phantom)
Eiko MiyoshiSenior lady-in-waiting
Chieko Naniwa The Spirit of Spider's Web (物の怪の妖婆) Three Witches [9]



Noh was an influence on the film. KANZE Sakon Obasute.jpg
Noh was an influence on the film.

William Shakespeare's plays had been read in Japan since the Meiji Restoration in 1868, [9] though banned during World War II for not being Japanese. [10] Director Akira Kurosawa stated that he had admired Shakespeare's Macbeth for a long time, and that he envisioned making a film adaptation of it after he completed his 1950 film Rashomon . When he learned that Orson Welles had released his own version of Macbeth in 1948, Kurosawa decided to postpone his adaptation project for several years. [11]

Kurosawa believed that Scotland and Japan in the Middle Ages shared social problems and that these had lessons for the present day. Moreover, Macbeth could serve as a cautionary tale complementing his 1952 film Ikiru . [11]

The film combines Shakespeare's play with the Noh style of drama. [12] Kurosawa was an admirer of Noh, which he preferred over Kabuki. In particular, he wished to incorporate Noh-style body movements and set design. [13] Noh also makes use of masks, and the evil spirit is seen, in different parts of the film, wearing faces reminiscent of these masks, starting with yaseonna (old lady). [14] Noh often stresses the Buddhist doctrine of impermanence. This is connected to Washizu being denied salvation, with the chorus singing that his ghost is still in the world. [15] Furthermore, the film score's use of flute and drum are drawn from Noh. [16]

Originally, Kurosawa planned only to produce the film and assumed he would not direct. However, when Toho (the production company) assessed the budget, they judged that the film would be costly and insisted that Kurosawa direct it. [17]


Kurosawa, cast and crew members on the set of Throne of Blood. Making of Throne of Blood Scan10020-1.jpg
Kurosawa, cast and crew members on the set of Throne of Blood.

The castle exteriors were built and shot on Mount Fuji. The castle courtyard was constructed at Toho's Tamagawa studio, with volcanic soil brought from Fuji so that the ground matched. The interiors were shot in a smaller studio in Tokyo. The forest scenes were a combination of actual Fuji forest and studio shots in Tokyo. Washizu's mansion was shot in the Izu Peninsula. [18]

In Kurosawa's own words,

It was a very hard film to make. We decided that the main castle set had to be built on the slope of Mount Fuji, not because I wanted to show this mountain but because it has precisely the stunted landscape that I wanted. And it is usually foggy. I had decided that I wanted lots of fog for this film... Making the set was very difficult because we didn't have enough people and the location was so far from Tokyo. Fortunately, there was a U.S. Marine Corps base nearby, and they helped a great deal; also a whole MP battalion helped us out. We all worked very hard indeed, clearing the ground, building the set. Our labor on this steep fog-bound slope, I remember, absolutely exhausted us; we almost got sick. [18]

Production designer Yoshirō Muraki said the crew opted to employ the color black in the set walls, and a lot of armor, to complement the mist and fog effects. This design was based on ancient scrolls depicting Japanese castles. [17]

Washizu's death scene, in which his own archers turn upon him and shoot him with arrows, was in fact performed with real arrows, shot by knowledgeable and skilled archers. During filming, Mifune waved his arms, which was how the actor indicated his intended bodily direction. This was for his own safety in order to prevent the archers accidentally hitting him. [19]


In Japan, the film was released by Toho on 15 January 1957. It played at 110 minutes and brought in more revenue than any other Toho film that year. [20]

In the United States, the film was distributed by Brandon Films at 105 minutes and opened on 22 November 1961. [20] In Region A, The Criterion Collection released the film on Blu-ray in 2014, having released a DVD version 10 years before. [21]


Critical reception

In 1961, the Time review praised Kurosawa and the film as "a visual descent into the hell of greed and superstition". [22] Writing for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther called the idea of Shakespeare in Japanese "amusing," and complimented the cinematography. [23] Most critics stated it was the visuals that filled the gap left by the removal of Shakespeare's poetry. [24] U.K. directors Geoffrey Reeve and Peter Brook considered the film to be a masterpiece, but denied it was a Shakespeare film because of the language. [25] Author Donald Richie praised the film as "a marvel because it is made of so little: fog, wind, trees, mist". [16]

The film has received praise from literary critics despite the many liberties it takes with the original play. The American literary critic Harold Bloom judged it "the most successful film version of Macbeth". [26] Sylvan Barnet writes it captured Macbeth as a strong warrior, and that "Without worrying about fidelity to the original," Throne of Blood is "much more satisfactory" than most Shakespeare films. [27]

In his 2015 Movie Guide, Leonard Maltin gave the film four stars, calling it a "graphic, powerful adaptation". [2] Throne of Blood currently holds a 95% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 43 reviews. [28]


AwardDate of ceremonyCategoryRecipient(s)ResultRef(s)
Kinema Junpo Awards 1958 Best Actress Isuzu Yamada Won [20]
Mainichi Film Awards 1957 Best Actor Toshirô Mifune Won [29]
Best Art Direction Yoshirō Muraki Won


Roman Polanski's 1971 film version of Macbeth has similarities to Throne of Blood, in shots of characters on twisted roads, set design, and music to identify locations and psychological conditions. [30] Toshiro Mifune's death scene was the source of inspiration for Piper Laurie's death scene in the 1976 film Carrie , [31] in which knives are thrown at her, in this case by character Carrie White using her psychic powers. Kurosawa returned to adapting Shakespeare, choosing the play King Lear for his 1985 film Ran , and again moving the setting to feudal Japan. [32]

Throne of Blood is referenced in the anime film Millennium Actress (2001) in the form of the Forest Spirit/Witch. [33] It was adapted for the stage by director Ping Chong, premiering at the 2010 Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland, Oregon. [34]

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  1. Kinema Junpo Best Ten 85th Complete History 1924-2011. Kinema Junpo. May 2012. p. 128. ISBN   978-4873767550.
  2. 1 2 Maltin 2014.
  3. Richie 1998, p. 117.
  4. Burnett 2014, p. 67.
  5. 1 2 Phillips 2013, p. 31.
  6. McDougal 1985, p. 253.
  7. Hatchuel, Vienne-Guerrin & Bladen 2013.
  8. Davies 1994, p. 161.
  9. 1 2 Buchanan 2014, p. 73.
  10. Buchanan 2014, p. 74.
  11. 1 2 Richie 1998, p. 115.
  12. Prince 1991, p. 142–147.
  13. McDonald 1994, p. 125.
  14. McDonald 1994, p. 129.
  15. McDonald 1994, p. 130.
  16. 1 2 Jin 2009, p. 90.
  17. 1 2 Richie 1998, p. 122.
  18. 1 2 Richie, Donald (1964). "Kurosawa on Kurosawa". Sight and Sound .
  19. Blair, Gavin J. (16 March 2016). "1957: When Akira Kurosawa's 'Throne of Blood' Was Ahead of Its Time". The Hollywood Reporter . Retrieved 10 December 2016.
  20. 1 2 3 Galbraith 2008, p. 129.
  21. Baumgarten, Marjorie (8 January 2014). "DVD Extra: 'Throne of Blood'". The Austin Chronicle . Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  22. "Cinema: Kurosawa's Macbeth". Time . 1 December 1961. Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  23. Crowther, Bosley (23 November 1961). "Screen: Change in Scene:Japanese Production of 'Macbeth' Opens". The New York Times . Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  24. Yoshimoto 2000, p. 268.
  25. Jin 2009, p. 88.
  26. Bloom 1999, p. 519.
  27. Barnet 1998, p. 197-198.
  28. "Throne of Blood (1957)". Rotten Tomatoes . Retrieved 9 December 2016.
  29. "12th (1957)". Mainichi Film Awards . Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  30. Kliman 2004, p. 195.
  31. Zinoman 2011.
  32. Davies 1994, p. 153.
  33. Cavallaro 2009, p. 17.
  34. Isherwood, Charles (11 November 2010). "Sprawling Cinema, Tamed to a Stage". The New York Times . Retrieved 10 December 2016.


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