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Throne of Blood: Washizu as pincushion

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    Ugetsu

    Question: Why did AK choose such a spectacular ending for Washizu?

    As other writers have noted, the traditional ‘end’ for a cinematic Samurai is in a swordfight – and of course a dramatic swordfight is the climax of many Kurosawa films. It would also be fairly consistent with the play.

    One writer (apologies, I can’t find the link for it), suggests that the arrows are a continuation for the symbolism of the forest. Just as the film starts with Washizu thundering through a forest, he dies in an organic ‘forest’ of arrows. But otherwise, most critics seem to think it was chosen more for its cinematic power – and of course we know its one of the most spectacular deaths in cinematic history.

    One common thread that it seems to have with other Kurosawa films is that it is ‘realistic’. I’ve commented in other films at how Kurosawa always went to great pains to portray warfare and violence in a way that any military nerd would approve. From what I know about archery, I think the contemporary Japanese bow was quite puny as they never mastered the composite bow (used by Central Asian horse warriors for centuries) or the Long Bow of the Welsh Marches. So the portrayal of arrows in Macbeth as being fairly puny weapons that could only take down an armored warrior at close range, with a lucky shot, or as with Washizu, by sheer numbers, would seem quite realistic.

    Perhaps one intention was to emphasise that his death occurs not through the arm of a superior warrior, or by a treacherous stab in the back, but by the anonymous collective action or a group of faceless soldiers? That the archers in fact represent Fate, ruthlessly and cruelly cutting down all human pretention in the end?

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    cocoskyavitch

    Nice post, Ugetsu. It’s pure coolness factor-the unbelievable Mifune pincushion is just completely mesmerizing, unforgettable, ridiculous, horrible, protracted, funny and grotesque. It’s also poetic-that last grasp for his sword handle, and his fall into the swirling fog at the feet of those who have killed him as they shuffle a few steps back in horror and fear-

    There are certain passages of what Kurosawa called “cinematic beauty” and there are certain passages of what I would call “heightened reality” when a filmed concatenation of actions/emotions brings us to a satisfying resolution. The intensity of the arrow scene takes me in turns through humor (so many arrows? Geez!) and concern (he’s hit…) revulsion (Mifune’s mouth, could it be any wider? You’re gonna die, dude, act like a man) disbelief (did that arrow go through his neck? Ohmigosh that arrow just went through his neck) horror (that arrow is right through his neck!) concern (oh, he’s got a lot of arrows in him, now) fascination (he’s coming down the stairs..what will happen? Will he make it and if he does…)

    Allright, you get the idea. It is an intense linked chain of actions and emotions that brings us to a satisfying (not necessarily emotionally simple) conclusion. I always feel the soldiers were cowards, and I always feel regret that Washizu had chosen such a stupid path, and I feel regret for the failings of human beings. The coda comes as a relief.

    Do the archers represent Fate? They feel inevitable, but I think that’s a function of that heightened reality concatenation of images-a brilliant, ridiculously over-the-top, spectacular bit of filmmaking.

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    lawless

    Isn’t making him into a pincushion a symbol of his subjects/warriors’ utter disdain for and loss of faith in him? Not only do they kill him in a horrible and dramatic way, they turn him from a human being into something more resembling furniture, a weapon of sorts (a large macehead, perhaps?), or a giant pincushion. It reminds me of the overkill in the more violent of today’s movies (like Kill Bill, although I have to admit I’ve never seen it – or probably all of the Tarantino oeuvre, which once again I haven’t seen – distilled into one scene instead of many and having more impact as a result.

    Kurosawa was great at seemingly random and startling (but not senseless) violence but he only had one or a few such scenes in any movie. I wonder what he would think/what he thought of the piling on of such scenes? I suspect not much. I guess that’s what happens when everyone and anyone who fancies himself an auteur uses techniques pioneered with subtlety by masters.

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu’s question is very interesting. And I feel that the answer that he suggests to it is even more so.

    In a sword fight, Washizu would at least have a chance, but here he is basically put in front of a firing squad. There is very little chance of him surviving that shower of arrows.

    That of course begs for another one of my “I don’t necessarily quite think so, but let’s throw this out there anyway” theories: If one were to consider the film as an allegory of Japan’s involvement in World War II (Washizu playing the role of the fascist leaders making wrong choices), this would mark the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal. It’s too bad though that the defendants were actually hanged and not shot (Wikipedia).

    Ugetsu: From what I know about archery, I think the contemporary Japanese bow was quite puny as they never mastered the composite bow (used by Central Asian horse warriors for centuries) or the Long Bow of the Welsh Marches. So the portrayal of arrows in Macbeth as being fairly puny weapons that could only take down an armored warrior at close range, with a lucky shot, or as with Washizu, by sheer numbers, would seem quite realistic.

    That’s really interesting to know, Ugetsu! It would then seem that him surviving all those arrows isn’t as superhuman and unrealistic as it might at first seem like. It also explains why my archers (and my arquebus units) always get lynched in Ran the board game.

    Note, however, that even with Washizu’s death, it still seems more like a case of a lucky shot than sheer numbers. After all, the actual cause of death appears to be a single arrow penetrating his throat (1:46:09).

    Washizu's death

    lawless: Isn’t making him into a pincushion a symbol of his subjects/warriors’ utter disdain for and loss of faith in him?

    I’m not sure if I would agree with you here, lawless. In my view, they kill him out of cowardice (or self-preservation — there’s sometimes a thin line between those two). Washizu has made them believe that they are invincible until the forest attacks the castle, and now that it does, they know that they are doomed. In my view, by killing Washizu, they are hoping to be able to surrender and save their own hinds. It really is a sad scene, with Washizu and the soldiers all being both victims and aggressors at the same time, and neither really getting my sympathy.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Mmm Lawless,

    ” …a symbol of his subjects/warriors’ utter disdain for and loss of faith in him? Not only do they kill him in a horrible and dramatic way, they turn him from a human being into something more resembling furniture, a weapon of sorts (a large macehead, perhaps?), or a giant pincushion.”

    They are also dehumanized, working as a mob, a collective in the mist without individuality or distinguishing characteristics. Who knows what they feel. The mob mentality is scary! And, is it necessary? I mean, is Washizu’s death the only resolution?

    But, I agree on another point you made, Lawless-it seems likely that a lot of filmmakers learned about the value of violence from Kurosawa.

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    Ugetsu

    Kurosawa was great at seemingly random and startling (but not senseless) violence but he only had one or a few such scenes in any movie. I wonder what he would think/what he thought of the piling on of such scenes? I suspect not much. I guess that’s what happens when everyone and anyone who fancies himself an auteur uses techniques pioneered with subtlety by masters.

    I agree with this completely. Kurosawa depicted violence maybe better than any other director, but it was never without a purpose. The fact that it is so unexpected and so sudden in many of his films is what sears it on our minds. I don’t think my jaw has ever quite got into its original position after it dropped at the end of Sanjuro. And the fight in Red Beard is maybe my favourite all time fight scene in any movie. If there is anything that marks out an inferior director it is the over use of violence to overcome narrative faults in a script.

    So perhaps to answer my original question, maybe AK chose this method of finishing off Washizu precisely because it was so unexpected?

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    lawless

    Maybe I didn’t express myself that well the first time. I think AK wanted to give Washizu a dishonorable death. He wanted his men to turn on him. As I think some commentary suggests, what he faces is a firing squad, or the proper century’s equivalent. (Isn’t this set in the 15th or 16th century Warring States period of Seven Samurai and Hidden Fortress?

    I still think disgrace has something to do with the method of his death. But anyway, that’s my two cents’ worth.

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: So perhaps to answer my original question, maybe AK chose this method of finishing off Washizu precisely because it was so unexpected?

    Perhaps, but I don’t think that it could have been the only reason, or even the main reason for it. I would personally say that Kurosawa never really introduces unexpected events simply to shake us — there always seems to be an underlying reason for that shaking, as is the case for example with Sanjuro and Red Beard.

    lawless: Isn’t this set in the 15th or 16th century Warring States period of Seven Samurai and Hidden Fortress?

    It was, indeed. In many interviews, Kurosawa remarked that one of the main reasons Macbeth interested him so much was that the events depicted in it made him think of the Warring States period, and especially what is called gekokujo, i.e. vassals betraying their lords.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Lawless said,

    “I still think disgrace has something to do with the method of his death.”

    Yes, one feels it…his men betraying him, his obvious fear-both things are a disgrace. And, he falls face down in the earth. (But, so does Kikuchiyo in Seven Samurai– so, perhaps, we are seeing how ignoble death itself is! Perhaps what is being underscored is the idea of the meaninglessness of this life and death-the futility of the grasping, self-delusion, the killing that leads to his own death-

    I think that if a “hero” had come forth to kill Washizu, we might have felt congratulatory-the bad guy got his comeuppance and his rightful punishment! But, instead, the faceless crowd in the mist kills from a distance. For me the feeling is of waste, not so much disgrace. I certainly get where you are coming from, though!

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