Macbeth is reimagined as a samurai in feudal Japan in director Akira Kurosawa's classic adaptation of the Shakespearean tragedy. Familiar with Orson Welles's more faithful adaptation, Kurosawa chose to place a more personal stamp on his version by translating the events and characters to historical Japan.
The equivalent of the tragic Scottish lord is Taketoki Washizu (Toshiro Mifune), a valiant warrior whose life is transformed by an encounter with a ghostly female spirit. The spirit offers several predictions, finally stating that Washizu will rise to power over the current warlord.
When these predictions begin coming true, he and his ambitious wife decide to ensure his ascendancy to power by murdering the current ruler. As with Macbeth, Washizu achieves his goal, but his guilt and the suspicions of others soon bring about his downfall.
The shift to Japanese settings is seamless, creating a historically accurate and resonant work with a culturally distinct visual style. The supporting performances also recall Japanese tradition, particularly Isuzu Yamada's creepily unemotional take on Lady Macbeth, while Mifune proves consistently gripping in the sheer intensity of his performance.
The intelligence of Kurosawa's alterations retains the drama's tragic impact, especially during the conclusion, in which Washizu makes a memorable final stand against an advancing army. Impressive in every regard, Throne of Blood seems secure in the pantheon of superior film adaptations of William Shakespeare.