Kurosawa’s Rhythm in ‘Throne of Blood’ (1957)

What about the emotionally charged scene in which Washizu hallucinates at dinner? It’s a powerful and shocking scene in its entirety but a small section will be enough to illustrate the point. Washizu sits to the top right of frame in a medium shot (MS).  He gazes transfixed at an empty place set for dinner that just edges into the bottom right of frame. The camera shifts smoothly in a straight line towards Washizu, cropping the frame to an image between a MS and a medium close shot. His gaze remains fixed. After a pause, the camera moves back towards its original position. This time, however, Miki’s ghost sits, staring down at his empty place. Washizu’s Madness – or drunkenness according to his wife Asaji (Isuzu Yamada) – is lent an inevitability by the gentle but repetitive flowing of the camera towards and away from his distracted eyes.

There are, it must be said, also moments of intense stillness. The example that stands out is when Asaji fetches the spear that will become the murder weapon. Reminiscent of Yasujiro Ozu’s aesthetic, as she is enveloped by darkness that extends beyond the doorframe, Kurosawa allows the camera to linger on the empty frame. We stare, for a few seconds, at black. The effect achieved is similar to that of a Rothko painting, though Kurosawa’s frame is charged with what has gone before and what follows afterwards: abstract calmness is coloured with sinister intensions.

Despite such moments, the film feels driven mainly by the subtle pulsating of the camera, the effect of moving again after a brief pause. Already demonstrated at a local level, there’s a similar rhythm in the film’s larger structural organization. For example, Kurosawa provides a framing narrative that bookends the picture. In the beginning, a thick fog fills the entire frame and, after a few moments, dissipates to reveal the ruins of Cobweb Castle. This disorientating but oddly serene sequence is accompanied by the chanting of many male voices. The reverse of the sequence brings the film to a close. The overall effect of this enfolding is to position the story in the realm of legends, separating the telling of the narrative from the events themselves. Surely Kurosawa also marks himself as a filmmaker of legendary status with this undeniably cinematic presentation of the story of Macbeth?

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When he isn't busy writing about film, for his own blog as well as for the MacGuffin, Mark is currently studying English literature at Oxford University.

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