There’s very little to be said of movies that reinterpret Shakespeare’s plays (10 Things I Hate About You, anyone?). Luckily, there aren’t many Macbeth rip-offs, in fact other than the one I’m about to review there only seems to be one other 2001 attempt named Scotland, PA (it revolves around Duncan’s fast-food restaurant and three visionary hippies, need I say more?). All other versions of the Scottish play are pretty much direct translations. Fortunately, Akira Kurosawa and the Japanese in general are big fans of a good old fashioned Samurai film… Kurosawa + Macbeth = Badass sword fights and awesome storyline. Kurosawa is partly responsible for placing the Japanese film industry on the map and even 50 years later it is evident why.
There’s not much to say about the actual storyline that you all don’t already know, I’m pretty sure we all had to endure Shakespeare a few too many times in school, but for those of you who were to ‘cool for school’ or whatever, keep up… Macbeth’s equivalent in this story is called Washizu, he is a gallant and noble Samurai who with his fellow warrior Miki (Banquo’s character) encounter the Forest Spirit who offers them several predictions, finally telling them that Washizu will take over the current warlord (King Duncan). When the prophecies start coming true, Washizu and his quite frankly freaky wife (Lady Macbeth) decide to start killing people off before their guilt leads to their madness and downfall. There’s obviously a lot more to it, but you try fitting five Acts into two sentences.
Here’s where I’m going to get all ‘Japanese Film Student’ on your otherwise pleasant reading experience. Kurosawa’s love of the theatre is very apparent in this film, though it’s less ‘Shakespeare’ and more ‘Noh’; traditional music, emptiness, lack of dialogue, elegant performances and even the characters’ make-up looks like traditional Japanese theatre masks. The Forest Spirit and Lady Washizu are the most frightening; the Spirit’s creepy voice, white hair and lack of gender is an inspiring imagining of Shakespeare’s Three Witches while Lady Washizu looks as treacherous as she is; white face, high eyebrows, crazy sudden movements and actual shrieking birds in the background while she is on screen.
If you don’t appreciate a great black and white period drama you’re probably still in school and therefore watching this film will probably be quite beneficial (I still can’t read Shakespeare, and I left school way too long ago!) For everyone else all I can do is recommend it, not only is Akira Kurosawa one of the most brilliant film-makers in the history of the industry but this is one of his most exceptional films. It is gorgeous looking and sounding and the acting can give Julia Stiles a run for her money.