When a film is nearing its 60th anniversary, and comes from the legendary Akira Kurosawa, it’s difficult to spend time picking apart a film like Throne of Blood; especially when it doesn’t need it. While it may be an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, it’s the transplanting of the story to feudal Japan that makes it possibly the best film adaptation of Macbeth. Infused with a spectacular use of Noh theatricalities, Kurosawa elevates the material, keeping the characters completely grounded in their own time period, while still managing his own epic sense of storytelling. The Criterion Collection does Kurosawa proud once again with their release of Throne of Blood available now on Blu-ray. Criterion is also now offering dual-format releases which includes a DVD copy as well.
In this version of Macbeth, samurai Washizu (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki (Akira Kubo), make their way to the castle of Lord Tsuzuki (Takamura Sasaki). Upon their travels, the two become lost in the immense surrounding forest and come across a spirit (Chieko Naniwa), who prophesizes that Washizu will eventually become Lord of the Spider’s Castle, but so too will Miki’s son. As the prophecy begins to unfold, Washizu’s wife Asaji (Isuzu Yamada) warns her husband that should Tsuzuki learn of the prophecy, he would be sent to death. Eventually, Washizu winds up on the bitter end of the prophecy, a destiny he cannot avoid.
Criterion presents Throne of Blood in black and white, framed in its original aspect ratio of 1.37:1 on a 50GB disc. The good news here is that this is an incredibly detailed picture. Restored in 2K, every piece of scratched armor, whipping flag, swirling dust, rolling fog, bending trees, pouring rain, fluttering feather, and facial features are delivered perfectly. Even the fresh blood on Washizu’s spear sparkles appropriately; something probably never seen before with the standard definition of DVD. While there are the inherent soft shots, this is the best Throne of Blood has undoubtedly ever looked. Criterion may have done their best to scrub up the picture, no DNR has been used, nor has the image been artificially sharpened.
Grain is always evident and there were no anomalies to speak of. There may still be plenty of scratches, dirt, stray hairs, and vertical lines, but this is one healthy picture. Depth extends throughout, with blacks nice and inky but never cause crush or lack of shadow detail. Contrast remains stable with no instances of strobing or clipping. This is another addition to the fine Blu-ray releases of Kurosawa from Criterion. With only one audio track in the way of a Japanese LPCM 1.0 mono, all things sound as fantastic as it looks. Dialogue remains stable, presenting every line crystal clear. The flute is more piercing than ever, making my dogs perk their heads up every time. A set of subtitles are available from two different translators: one from Japanese-film translator Linda Haoglund and another from Kurosawa expert Donald Richie.
The special features are limited but definitely add to the film experience as is always the case with a Criterion release. A 23-minute documentary kicks things off from the Toho Masterworks series: Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create. Narrated by Masayuki Yui, and featuring interviews with Kurosawa himself, he tells us, “A truly good movie is interesting and easy to understand.” Something he takes to heart in adapting something like Shakespeare. We also get to hear from production designer Yoshiro Muraki, Noh performer Mitsuhiro Honda, and even actress Isuzu Yamada. A commentary track from Japanese-film expert Michael Jeck is extremely informative and fun. Tim Lucas could learn a thing or two for his Mario Bava commentaries for Kino. Commentaries don’t need to be so planned out and sound like they’re reading a script. Also included is a reprint of the booklet from the 2003 Criterion DVD release featuring Stephen Price and the two translators: Hoaglund and Richie.
Anyone who is a film fan should have an appreciation for Akira Kurosawa’s body of work and Criterion has done him proud once again with their Blu-ray release of Throne of Blood. As is always the case, the video and audio are presented with stellar results and the extras only add to the enjoyment of the film. Adding this to one’s collection is a no-brainer.