THRONE OF BLOOD (蜘蛛巣城, Kumonosu-jō, “SPIDER WEB CASTLE”) is an Akira Kurosawa movie from 1957, and the only one I’ve seen by him that has supernatural shit in it. It’s partly inspired by Shakespeare’s Macbeth, which to be honest I don’t remember that well, because I only read it in school, and Julie Taymor hasn’t made it into a movie yet. But even I picked up on it when the Lady Macbeth-like character couldn’t stop scrubbing her hands, thinking they still had blood on them. That guy died 400 years ago, and he still owns guilty hand-washing scenes. Hats off.
Two generals, Washizu Taketoki (Toshiro Mifune, HELL IN THE PACIFIC) and Miki Yoshiteru (Akira Kubo, GAMERA: GUARDIAN OF THE UNIVERSE), are headed back to their boss Lord Tsuzuki (Hiroshi Tachikawa, FIGHTING ELEGY) at Spider Web Castle after a glorious victory in battle. But, like a horror movie, the woods seem to have changed, and they’ve gotten lost. Then they spot a strange all white ghosty type person (Chieko Naniwa, SANSHO THE BAILIFF) just kinda sitting there in the woods glowing. And when that happens, I mean you basically got a choice of running away or walking up to it and seeing what the deal is. They choose B.
That’s B as in “Big mistake.” She doesn’t possess them, slime them, evil dead them or anything; what she does is more insidious: she predicts their futures. She tells them that Washizu will be named the head of the Northern Garrison, and Miki will move up from commander of Fort 2 to commander of Fort 1. Also she says Washizu will eventually become the Lord of the castle, and Miki’s son will also be the lord of the castle some day.
Ha ha, silly ghost, that’s ridiculous. Stop messin’ with us. And they find their way home, and can you guess what happens? The Lord rewards their achievements with the exact promotions specified in the first part of the ghost lady’s predictions. Gulp.
I mean, that’s cool though. Nice to be acknowledged. Washizu tells his wife Asaji (Isuzu Yamada, TOKYO TWILIGHT) what happened, and let me tell you – I do not like this creepy lady! She sits there frowning and passive aggressively talking him out of his better instincts. She’s delightfully horrible. I also watched RASHOMON, which is obviously a very well made and interesting movie, but my modern sensitivities struggled with its one female character being raped and then repeatedly besmirched by all the male characters, accused of manipulating everybody. This guy (Mifune again) rapes her and then figures out she wants him to kill her husband and the rapist is like “This is too much, even for me. I, a rapist and bandit, must put my foot down at what this woman is trying to pull. Why, I never.” He asks the husband “Do you want me to kill her?” A couple of bros teaming up against the woman of their nightmares. I’m against it!
Lady Asaji is no better a representative for all of womandom, but she’s such a vividly despicable character that it’s entertaining. See, she wants him to murder his boss. See if they can’t make this forest spirit “Lord of the castle” prophecy come true. Conveniently, the current Lord unexpectedly shows up to visit, so they poison his sake, stab him, blame it on his guards. Career stuff.
I mean, this guy Washizu honestly never dreamed or even wanted to become the Lord of Spider Web Castle. That was just not something on his radar. He enjoyed simply being a badass sword dude. This is all so crazy. So many little details you never think about that you gotta take care of. For example he has no kid, but there’s gotta be an heir, so he says his buddy Miki’s son can be the heir.
Of course, Asaji is like ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME? We committed multiple murders to make your part of the ghost lady’s prophecy come true, do you really want to bet your life on the other part, about Miki’s kid becoming Lord, not coming true? Come on, man!
So there is scheming and killing and guilt and embarrassment when he starts seeing the ghosts of his victims in public and freaking out in front of everybody like a nut.
There’s a great part at the climax, where he’s at the castle, waiting for enemies to attack, but the ghost tells him don’t worry buddy, it would take the very trees of the Spider Web Forest rising to attack you for you to be defeated. Very reassuring… until he sees the fucking trees moving toward him!
Such a creepy image. At first I thought it was a special effect, then I realized I could see some legs in there – they really did a shot of all those trees moving! And finally I understood that we were supposed to spot those people – soldiers are moving toward the castle disguised as trees. He’s fucked.
His subsequent death by arrows is a really cool scene. I’ve read that the ones that hit him are on wires, but they were also firing real ones around him. That’s some trust right there.
For my tastes, THRONE OF BLOOD ranks low among the Kurosawa joints I’ve seen. Not enough codes of honor, and maybe I prefer his normal style of characters to this intentionally Shakespearian style. But it has a bit of an eerie ghost story feel that you don’t usually get from him, and the obvious moral of the story is very effective. When these generals were satisfied with their lives they seemed like pretty good, ethical people. But just believing in the possibility that they could have power quickly turned them into savages. The Spider Web Castle is treated as kind of a cursed place – haunted by the things that have happened there, the literal blood stains that won’t entirely scrub out, scary even when it’s completely destroyed and there’s just a marker and some fog. But I think the story tells us that all seats of power can be cursed places, bringing in the worst people, bringing out the worst in people, projecting glory but ending in tragedy and sorrow.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.