Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Based on the stage play Macbeth by William Shakespeare
Screenplay by Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryûzô Kikushima, Akira Jurosawa
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Isuzu Yamada, Takashi Shimura
A military leader (Mifune) and his ambitious wife (Yamada) hatch a plan to help him become the lord of Spider’s Web Castle. Encouraged by cryptic prophecies, they refuse to abandon their goals no matter what the cost.
This is director Akira Kurosawa’s (Seven Samurai) unique adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth. The screenplay was completed by Kurosawa with the help of Hideo Oguni (Ran), Shinobu Hashimoto (Rashomon), and Ryûzô Kikushima (Yojimbo). The film stars the incredible Toshiro Mifune (Strawberry Road) in the lead role, with Isuzu Yamada (Sisters of the Gion) and Takashi Shimura (Ikiru) also featured.
This is one of the most successful adaptations of Shakespeare’s classic play despite the major liberties that Kurosawa took with the story. The writing seems to maintain the integrity of the message and the basic framework of the story. This is impressive considering the abandonment of Shakespeare’s dialogue and the change in the setting.
Bringing this story to feudal Japan provided a nice basis for the themes of the film. It also allowed Kurosawa to pay tribute to the Noh stage plays popular in Japanese culture. This mix of Japanese culture with the classic story works almost perfectly. The dialogue, although original, manages to retain the meaning of the original text. Overall, the writers managed to do Macbeth justice with their adaptation. American literary critic Harold Bloom even stated that it “the most successful film version of Macbeth.
The acting in this film features great work from a number of people in the cast. Isuzu Yamada does a wonderful job playing the scheming and ambitious wife. Her adjustment to the story plays with the question of sanity in wonderful moments spread out throughout the film. Similarly, Takashi Shimura does great work with his role in this one. Together with the rest of the supporting cast they are able to bring this story the depth it needs.
The real highlight of this movie comes from the absolutely incredible work of Toshiro Mifune. His performance starts with a stoic military leader, and throughout the film he shows the disintegration of this man through great physical work. He also delivers the dialogue with the most emotional performance in the entire film. Thanks to performances like his, the acting in this movie stands out for all the right reasons.
The visuals in this film can’t be ignored. Kurosawa built the fortress sets on the slopes of Mount Fuji and took full advantage of the natural landscape. He allowed the fog on the mountainside to become a character of its own, bringing a unique tone to the movie. The additional sets and locations used all work nicely in maintaining a feeling of authenticity throughout the film.
The costumes and the makeup work also come together to keep this looking great. Cinematographer Asakazu Nakai (Ikiru) should also be given a lot of credit for his work on this one. He paired with Kurosawa a number of times, and always did great work capturing the director’s unique vision. Outside of the visuals the film also has a very great score, composed by Masaru Sato (The Hidden Fortress).
This is a classic Japanese film that I really love. Fans of Shakespeare are first on my list of people to recommend this to. It works on all the right themes to remain loyal to the play. I would also suggest this to fans of foreign films, as well as fans of the great director. People who love Toshiro Mifune should also make this a must-see film. I give this one 4.6 out of 5 stars.