Inhabiting the roles of Macbeth and Lady Macbeth are none other than Ian Mc Kellen and Judi Dench, arguably the two most talented British thespians walking the boards in the year 1978.The duo delivers a pair of titanic performances, amply supplying the grandeur and —duh— theatricality that has elevated these characters into the pantheon of great dramatic roles.Those three tragedies revolve around universal themes that can be tailored to fit modern tastes or the milieu of the director’s choosing.The process of coming into one’s own, excessive ambition’s deleterious effects on the soul, and the agony of forbidden love all transcend the Europe of yore.At the time, both actors were regarded as respectable fixtures of the stage, neither having become bigtime stars.But with “Macbeth,” their twin destinies as living treasures of the screen were instantly clarified.
Turbulent wartorn Japan made sense in “Throne Of Blood,” and so does the high-stakes world of organized crime.
Toshiro Mifune takes on one of his greatest roles as General Washizu, conveying supreme power but still enough willing blindness to fall into his manipulative wife’s (Isuzu Yamada) machinations.
Kurosawa drew on the illustrious history of Japanese noh theatre to style his film, accenting the dramatics of Macbeth’s madness with the heft and grandeur of high opera.
No concessions were made to gussy up the production for the screen, keeping the theater-in-the-round format (resulting in constant, sometimes disorienting revolving camera movements) and paring down costumes to the bare minimum while nearly eschewing scenery entirely.
Then what, pray tell, does that leave as the saving grace validating this project’s existence?