“Humanity strives, all its days, to sear its own flesh in the flames of base desire.”
The 1950s were an incredibly strong decade for Japanese cinema. Coincidently this was also the decade when Western audiences started taking real notice of what was happening there. Akira Kurosawa helped spearhead this interest with his first international hit Rashomon (1950), proceeded by a succession of iconic films in the years following that would have a major influence on Hollywood filmmakers such as John Sturges and George Lucas (you did know Lucas basically lifted the entire outline for Star Wars from a certain 1958 samurai film, right?).
Often one of the more overlooked of Kurosawa’s films from this decade, but among my personal favourites, is 1957’s Throne of Blood. A literary adaptation quite unique in that it transcended time and culture to communicate a classic story in a fresh, original way, Throne of Blood adapted Shakespeare’s Macbeth to the setting of feudal Japan. Toshiro Mifune played the title character in what was one of his 16 collaborations with Kurosawa between 1948-65.
The film is especially notable for the tantalisingly creepy atmosphere that its director creates, not least in a scene with the mysterious spirit (substitute here for Macbeth’s three witches) who sets the plot in motion with a vaguely worded song/ prophecy. Traditional Japanese ‘Noh’ theatre lent stylistic and lyrical elements to this part of the movie, so while the film is technically an adaptation of a famous Western text, it is most definitely Eastern in its delivery. Despite its age, this stripped down drama is one I still find more effective than many modern equivalents.