I recently had the pleasure of watching two movies by Akira Kurosawa: “Throne of Blood,” which was made in 1957, and “Ran,” released in 1985. I’ve enjoyed many films by the director, including “Rashomon” (1950), “Seven Samurai” (1954), “Yojimbo” (1961), and “Dreams” (1990). What makes these films relate especially to each other, however, is that they are based on Shakespeare’s plays “MacBeth” and “King Lear,” respectively.
Of course, Akira Kurosawa was a man of his own ideas (he famously was booted from the Japanese-American co-production, “Tora! Tora! Tora!) and the characters of “Throne of Blood” and “Ran” are strange reflections of the originals in “MacBeth” and “King Lear.” MacBeth is here a spineless weakling, manipulated by evil spirits and a wicked wife, a “>Montezuma II without the violence or the self-mutilation. King Lear recalls no character in the film so much as the Adolf Hitler of “Downfall“.
I watched “Ran” before “Throne of Blood,” and I am glad that I did. Many elements of “Ran” appear to be re-imaginings of parts of “Throne of Blood.” The banners which hang in monochrome in the 1950s are now brilliant colors that themselves frame the shot; MacBeth’s wife bears a striking resemblance(in appearance, make-up, and personality) to King Lear’s daughter-in-law, and the sense of place that is so patiently explored in “Ran” gives context to the quick-pace of “Throne of Blood.”
Unlike “Goodfellas” and “My Blue Heaven,” which are films about nihilistic violence in the American context, “Throne of Blood” and “Ran” are actually worth watching. The holocaust of King Lear’s death, and the world that MacBeth unites against him, provides a depth and a context that escape many directors.