Relocating Shakespeare's "Macbeth" from 11th century Scotland to 16th century Japan, "Throne of Blood" is less a direct translation of the play than a Japanese re-imagining.
In terms of narrative, "Throne of Blood" stays close to the original, focusing on the overreaching ambition of samurai warrior Washizu (Mifune). Visually, though, "Throne of Blood" spectacularly transforms the source play - turning it into a terrifying journey through darkness, evil, and despair.
As the tyrannical usurper, Mifune is amazing, strutting around the frame with a maniacal restlessness that stems first from repressed ambition and then from guilt-ridden anxiety. Constantly straining against some invisible leash, Mifune's Macbeth is a man whose desires cannot be contained within the film's claustrophobic spaces (forts, castles, and fog-clouded battlefields).
Taking the strict formality and stylized action of the Japanese Noh drama as a starting point, Kurosawa crafts a series of incredible sequences, full of striking contrasts. The scene where Lady Washizu sends her husband off to perform the murderous deed is breathtaking in its pure simplicity - the camera lingers over her motionless form as she waits for him to return, taking in each subtle flicker of her face, capturing her emotional turmoil in all that doesn't happen, before exploding in a frenzy of activity as she leaps to her feet.
Such contrasts occur repeatedly, from the shifts between light and shadow, to the juxtaposed sequences of military action (as hundreds of soldiers charge the fort), and Mifune's solitary ravings.
The film's closing scene captures Washizu's fatal flaw perfectly, as the bubble of his ambition is finally burst by a hundred arrows. No wonder it has become an iconic moment in cinema history.
In Japanese with English subtitles.