Throne of Blood Blu-ray Review

     Format: Black & White, Subtitled
  • Language: Japanese
  • Subtitles: English
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
  • Number of discs: 2
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Criterion Collection
  • Release Date: January 7, 2014
  • Run Time: 109 minutes



            The films of Akira Kurosawa offer endless bounty of rewards with repeat viewings and the more historical background is uncovered. His films are like eating an artichoke, finding layer upon layer until the heart is finally revealed. Even those who stop before reaching the center will be satisfied, with skilled filmmaking carrying a classic narrative, though this is no comparison to the delectable morsels at the center.


            It would be easiest to refer to Throne of Blood as Kurosawa’s adaptation of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and knowing only the story of the Scottish King from this tale would be enough to make Throne of Blood entertaining. Kurosawa made the change in setting from eleventh-century Scotland to sixteenth century Japan, recognizing a similarity in the times, but even more significant was the parallel the filmmaker saw in modern times. Rather than simply adapting Shakespeare's masterpiece, Kurosawa uses the play as a launching point, adding layers to the already complex tale of power and greed.


            Kurosawa’s films often contained themes of the strong preying on the weak, and the moral struggle to oppose this injustice. Shakespeare’s Macbeth contains significant themes of greed and corruption in a desperate scramble for power. While the end result is hardly as uplifting as the peasant’s struggle against the bandits in Seven Samurai or as engaging as the two clans being pitted against each other in pursuit of this power in Yojimbo, the message is clearly the same.


            The reason Kurosawa is still unsurpassed in his abilities today is because of the way that he was able to create such rich entertainment, with his intelligent story layers never seem to take precedence over the simple visual pleasure that cinema has to offer. Even by today’s standards his films are remarkably vibrant, and Throne of Blood utilizes an element of Japanese Noh theater in order to retain some of the theatrical elements of Shakespeare’s play. 


            The way that Kurosawa presents the story of Macbeth through the simplistic art of Noh theater distances the audience from the characters. We experience the story as a parable, never truly drawn in to relate to any of the characters as much as the characteristics of human weakness. What makes Throne of Blood so powerful is not simply the film itself, but the personal knowledge of human behavior each viewer brings to the experience.


            The Blu-ray release of Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood is dual format, also including a DVD copy of the film. This release also includes a newly restored 2K digital film transfer, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. The special features are the same on both discs, including a commentary track with Japanese-film expert Michael Jeck, a making-of documentary, and two alternate subtitle translations for this richly poetic dialogue. The package also includes a booklet insert with an essay by film historian Stephen Prince and notes on the subtitles by translators Linda Hoaglund and Donald Richie.


    Entertainment Value: 6.5/10

    Quality of Filmmaking: 10/10

    Historical Significance: 9/10

    Disc Features: 9.5/10



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