Welcome to Akira Kurosawa info!  Log in or Register?

Throne of Blood

  •   link

    minx_c

    Hello.

    I am currently writing a seminar paper on Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood. I chose to analyze the contrast of Lady Macbeth in Shakespeare’s play and Lady Asaji in Kurosawa’s film. Due to an article on Kurosawa’s film by Donald Richie, I was wondering about the “evil spirit”, played by the actress Chieko Naniwa. I am not sure about the function of this “spirit”. Donald Richie talks about a “witch”, whereas in the film this character is called “evil spirit”. I am not sure if this character is male, female or neutral. And if it is a he, she or it, what consequences does that have? I do not know if spirits or ghosts are gendered in Japanese culture. Would a female spirit have other functions or character traits than a male or a neutral one? I hope that someone can help me with that topic.

    Thank you for your time and attention. I look forward to your reply.

      link

    Jeremy

    This is can get rather complicated and I can only offer a bit of help. Beside being just my opinion, most of my concepts of witches in Japanese culture arrives from the study of Japanese directors Kaneto Shindo and Makaki Kobayashi that often deal with witches, and only a small bit of Noh studies.

    Kurosawa in Throne of Blood is arguably pulling more on the Noh conventions (Japanese musical dramas) rather then the pure Shakespearean concepts. Shakespeare themes largely centered around christianity, in which Kurosawa makes some changes to fit buddhist concepts .

    The Japanese often use the term “evil spirit” rather then “witch” as witch derives from the pagan, christian traditions which would be absent in Japanese Noh. However that are in the end both the same thing.

    In Noh, evil spirits do have genders and can be male or female. In Throne of Blood the witch I believe should be considered a male, basing this on my limited knowledge of zen buddhism, as well that in Noh typically if the main character is a evil spirit they are represented as male.

    The function of this witch is death and destruction, that entice the evil that is in all men’s hearts.

    I dont know if a female spirit would have traits that are different then what a male spirit would have, they all seem to be able to represent the same thing. The use of female or male, tends be decided on the role in which the spirit plays, if the spirit come after a men’s mind for power, then it would be male, but if the spirt comes for men’s lust then it would be female.

    Again I’m limited in what I can offer, perhaps if you offered a more specfic question I could focus on that area, I’m also at the disadvantage of not in some time watching Throne of Blood, and having difficulty remember what is needed to answer your questions.

    There are some rather crafty members here that may be able to offer much better advice, you should take what I said lightly and do a bit of checking before considering anything to be of absolute fact, but I did offer only what I believe is correct.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    Jeremy clearly knows more about the Tokyo school of wizardry than I do, so I don’t really have anything to add in that sense, except that Kurosawa has noted that the witch was particularly based on a similar character in the Noh drama Kurozuka.[1]

    It is, however, interesting how Kurosawa also seems to have taken the Weird Sisters and dropped the trinity but introduced the spinning. In that sense, he has traded one quality of the Norns with another.

    Ultimately, how to interpret Macbeth has always to me centrally depended on what you consider the Sisters as actually representing. The cosmogony of the play is, after all, very different if the three are only witches or evil-doers, rather than the Fates or seers of future events. Kurosawa, to me, seems to make the case that she is, indeed, a real spirit.

    But perhaps the real reason why you ask about the witch when you are really writing about Lady Macbeth is the theory often put forward that Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth might be either one of the three witches, or Hecate herself? I personally wouldn’t think that the interpretation is encouraged in Kurosawa’s version (to be honest, I’m not so sure if it works in Shakespeare, either).

    In any case, you might consider getting hold of James Goodwin’s Akira Kurosawa and Intertextual Cinema. In it, Goodwin spends about 20 pages discussing the film and Shakespeare, with a few pages devoted to Lady Macbeth / Asaji.

    Ultimately, however, if you are writing about Lady Macbeth / Asaji, I think you could do worse than to read into Noh conventions. Throne of Blood is, in the end, almost as much Noh as it is Shakespeare, and perhaps with no character is this more true than with Asaji.

    [1] Mellen, Joan. “Interview with Akira Kurosawa”. In: Bert Cardullo (ed.). Akira Kurosawa: Interviews. University Press of Mississippi, 2008. (p. 65)

      link

    Jon Hooper

    Just a footnote to the excellent above posts. I’d always thought that the witch or evil spirit was female. At one point Washizu says of her: “That woman’s words may well be part of a dream.” I think Kurosawa is also playing on the Macbeth tradition of identifying Asaji/Lady Macbeth with the witch(es). Both seem to have insight into the secret desires of Washizu. Ambition in Throne of Blood is to some extent a female impulse, contrasted with the more open and direct male impulse of martialism.

      link

    Jeremy

    Sanjuro got me thinking…

    The witches could be androgyne characters, in MacBeth Shakespeare avoids any explicit classification, as the weird sisters look female but have beards.

    However, I dont know of any specfic notations of androgyny in Noh, there are plays that do not give a specfic gender, but none go into length about the issue. Often when a spirit gender is not mention the mask they wear are describe as an female mask or a male mask and can switch back in forth.

    I think the main reason for that androgyne characters are avoid in Noh as it would undermined the power structure and require a alternate society.

    Going back to what I said earlier, being the that the evil spirit is dominate and to some degree the main character it would point to a male.

    I cant however explain the quote that Sanjuro offered, nor can I deny that indeed the evil spirit does give off some impulses of female.

    My point?- I dont know, Sanjuro just got me thinking 🙂

      link

    Jon Hooper

    I have almost no knowledge of Noh and find what you have written very interesting. The only thing that sticks in my mind is reading somewhere that Kurosawa wanted Asaji to physically resemble the Noh mask of a demon – but I’d need to recheck this. It’s probably in Richie, Prince or Galbraith as they’re the main texts I have. I certainly remember, by the way, feeling that while I took the spirit to be female it did come across as being somewhat androgynous. There is a sense, I think, that the character is a manifestation of Washizu’s covert lust for power, just as Asaji may be as much the voice of Washizu’s secret desires as a plotter and manipulator who bends his will. Aspects of a male consciousness, then; aspects of Washizu himself. Of course, I have no basis for this other than my own subjective impressions, and wish I knew more about Noh conventions and could remember more of Shakespeare.

      link

    Andrew

    Not much to add to this very interesting discussion, except to mention a useful source: Keiko McDonald’s book ‘Japanese Classical Theater in Films’ contained some very interesting info on the Noh influences on ‘Throne of Blood’ and ‘Ran,’ in particular.

      link

    Jeremy

    Well, I dont have much basis for my impressions myself, my studies are rather limited.

    Thanks Andrew, I was just looking for a book to buy on Japanese classical theater.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    I would say that the the witch is a woman in Kurosawa, just like the wyrd sisters are women in Shakespeare. At least they are constantly referred to as such. As for the beards in Shakespeare, in contemporary tradition in England, witches were said to wear beards, so I don’t think that it is necessarily an attempt to androgynise those characters, but rather to simply mark them as witches.

    Sanjuro’s point that “Ambition in Throne of Blood is to some extent a female impulse, contrasted with the more open and direct male impulse of martialism.” is interesting, and I would think worth exploring. It would seem to me that Lady Asaji is even more pushy towards that ambition than is her counterpart Lady Macbeth.

    It is also an interesting point that the witch, just like Asaji, would in a manner reflect the secret desires of Washizu. Earlier on, I marked that to me the key (or at least “a key”) to interpreting Macbeth is in the nature of the witches’ prophecy. While in Shakespeare, I feel, it is never made absolutely clear what the witches actually are, in Kurosawa I would say that nothing is really offered for us to consider the witch’s words as anything but real knowledge of the future events.

    If so, that would mean that Washizu’s world is to a large extent predetermined. In the case of the original play, by the way, this is a notion that many Shakespearean critics tend to be unhappy about and go to great lengths to refute, despite of the idea offering an interesting meta-theatrical reading. Whatever the case with Shakespeare, in Kurosawa I feel that the idea of a predetermined storyline corresponds well with Mifune’s acting — I constantly feel that he is trying to get a hold of the storyline, wrestling in vain to stop the wheel of fortune from turning. His ultimate downfall occurs when he stops doing that, and starts to believe in the prophecy as the truth — that nothing could harm him as long as the forest stays still.

    Now, if the witch and Lady Asaji are indeed some type of reflections of Washizu’s secret desires, would it mean that what he is wrestling with is not the world but himself? That the turmoil is not with external but internal forces? That his downfall takes place when he finally gives into his desires?

    Kurosawa’s use of the Noh masks as a basis for many of the characters in The Throne of Blood is discussed in many different sources. One place is the Mellen interview that I already quoted earlier. In it Kurosawa gives the following connections between characters and masks:[1]

    Lord Washizu – Heida (“This was the mask of a warrior.”)

    Lady Asaji – Shakumi (“This was the mask of a beauty no longer young, and represented the image of a woman about to go mad. The actress who wears this mask, when she gets angry, changes her mask for one the exes of which are golden-colored. This mask represents the state of an unearthly feeling of tension and Lady Macbeth assumes the same state.”)

    The warrior murdered by Washizu and who comes back as a ghost – “the mask of the apparition of a nobleman of the name of Chujo”.

    The witch – Yamanba

    Perhaps someone with more knowledge (or better googling skills) than me can shed more light on these masks.

    I’ll keep Japanese Classical Theater in Films in mind, thanks for the tip Andrew! It seems to be available in a number of places, but will have to wait as I just spent my this month’s Kurosawa allowance on Rashomon related materials.

    [1] Mellen, Joan. “Interview with Akira Kurosawa”. In: Bert Cardullo (ed.). Akira Kurosawa: Interviews. University Press of Mississippi, 2008. (p. 65)

      link

    Jon Hooper

    I’ve read through Vili’s post and I think my memory was at fault regarding the “demon” – I think it was more a case of my western prejudices imposing themselves on my reading of the film. Richie says that the appearance of the witch is based on the Noh ghost-mask. I had to look up Yamanba as the extract from Mellen does not provide any explanation. I’m not sure how reliable the info is but Wikipedia has the following:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yama-uba

    What is quite funny is that when I initially entered Yamanba I was directed to the Ganguro and Yamanba page, which are fashions, the latter being based on the Yamauba of folklore. The link is here:

    null

    It struck me that the two ganguro in the subway bear a more than passing resemblance to Kurosawa’s witch. The Yamanba picture is less clear, but having googled pictures I can see the resemblance between the fashion and Kurosawa’s witch. Obviously she would look quite fashionable in modern day Japan.

    Apologies if most of this is common knowledge to other users of the forum – I really should make an effort to educate myself more in Japanese culture.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    It struck me that the two ganguro in the subway bear a more than passing resemblance to Kurosawa’s witch.

    So true!

    And I am totally ignorant when it comes to Japanese theatre, or indeed most things Japanese, so any bit of information is always welcome. There are no silly questions or facts unworthy of repetition, as I used to tell my students back when I worked at the uni.

      link

    Jeremy

    I’z confused 🙁

    Vili, you know I’m far from a literary master or even just a literary padawan 😆

    but I’m sure Shakespare avoids any clear gender.

    Such lines as (I poorly quote)

    “You should be women”

    something is mention he see the beard and he goes on to say

    “forbids me to interpret, that you are so”

    And didnt, old stories with christian influence have witches referred to as “she” or “woman” although no gender is defined. I do believe anything of supernatural and ungodly origin in christian writing uses women as the evil doers by default under the notation of christiainity’s foundation of adam and eve?

    I am under the impression that they are “she” or “woman” by default but still can avoid gender.

    Lord Washizu – Heida (“This was the mask of a warrior.”)

    Lady Asaji – Shakumi (“This was the mask of a beauty no longer young, and represented the image of a woman about to go mad. The actress who wears this mask, when she gets angry, changes her mask for one the exes of which are golden-colored. This mask represents the state of an unearthly feeling of tension and Lady Macbeth assumes the same state.”)

    The warrior murdered by Washizu and who comes back as a ghost – “the mask of the apparition of a nobleman of the name of Chujo”.

    The witch – Yamanba

    I’m I reading wrong, or doesnt this support then neutral gender, as it goes from a mask of a warrior-which could only be male in Japanese culture, and then to a mask that looks like a woman. I think this goes back to when I mention that when no specfic spirit gender is mentioned, its because they switch according to the mask, thus making the maskless spirit none gendered.

    The spirits voice is purposely un-intonated and deep as is common with Noh dramas, however I dont know if this is done to prevent gender classing.

    I believe the mask give the gender of what is represented but the spirit remains neutral, as to why their voice is un-intonated.

    I think I confused myself, I have nearly forgotten all of Throne of Blood and MacBeth.

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    .

    LOL ganguros– I do believe for the most part the trend is dead, but there are Japanese girls and guys that still bleach their hair blonde and tan way too much. I dont think they look in mirrors, because they would break, as nearly as my eyes do 🙂

      link

    Vili Maunula

    For one thing, the witches, who are actually not directly referred to as “witches” by anyone in the play apart from the stage directions, are called “sisters” by both the witches themselves as well as by the others. I don’t think “sisters” could be considered anything but a group of women.

    Meanwhile, I don’t really see any direct indication in the play that they could or should be seen as male.

    Actually, rather than simple “sisters”, the three are in the first folio repeatedly called the weyard, weyward or wayward sisters. Modern transcriptions tend to make that “Weird Sisters”, which makes it a direct reference to the Norns (‘weird’ comes from Old English ‘wyrd’ that means “that which comes” or “fate”), who are definitely and exclusively female.

    Why Shakespeare himself apparently didn’t just use the monosyllabic “wyrd” / “weird” is a good question, although something we will probably never be able to answer with any certainty. This is especially so because the only text that we have (the first folio printing) is generally considered “corrupted”. For, not only is Macbeth conspicuously short, but it also includes songs from a Thomas Middleton play that was written some ten years after Macbeth was most probably composed. Middleton’s penmanship is recognized also elsewhere in the play.

    As for the masks, the Heida mask was associated with Washizu, not the witch. The witch, as I perhaps somewhat poorly expressed, was created around the Yamanba (or as Sanjuro’s links point out Yama-uba) mask. Now, I have only the Wikipedia article to go with, but they seem to treat her as exclusively female.

    And doesn’t yama-uba actually translate as “mountain old woman”, again implying a distinctly female character?

      link

    Jeremy

    Well I learn.

    yama-uba (山姥) is indeed mountain old woman.

    I do think however 山姥 is not correct, I think it should be 山媼,means the same thing but 媼 being a multiradical it contains info for a noh mask.

    Anyways I was browsing though Japan Wikipedia, and a few Japanese links on literature and it all points to yama-uba being female, regardless what kanji is used.

    A few things I read still doesnt completely convince me that the evil spirit is in Throne of Blood is distinctly female, I will still say it being male has some decent evidence to support the idea, but I think assuming female is the most logical choice in the end.

    Also I wonder if it even matters.

      link

    minx_c

    I am really impressed to read so many inspiring posts! Thanks a lot! 🙂

    As far as I know now (from my readings) the yama-uba mask (or Yamanba?) is a female ghost.

    But can a such a ghost change sexes? This question came up when I watched the movie again last night.

    When Washizu comes to the forest the second time to ask the spirit, she tells him the profecy and changes her outer appearance to a warrior costume and another one which I don’t know. Is it “normal” for a NOH-ghost to do so?

    @ Vili Maunula: Were the quotations you posted direct quotations from Joan Mellen’s book?

    Unfortunately I cannot get a copy of it in my university library or any other library around my town. 😥 As well, I don’t know how much time the shipping to Germany would take… Has anybody of you an idea if this book might be available somewhere online? I haven’t found it on Google books yet, but maybe there are other homepages?

    Anyway, your posts help me a lot! Thank you!

      link

    Jon Hooper

    Minx_c, I’m not aware of the Interviews book being available in an online version, but the quickest way to order it would probably be through a site like play.com (which has some available through play trade, which is generally a cheap option), or through amazon (amazon germany are likely to carry a copy or failing that amazon uk). I regularly order from these two sites and it usually takes about a week. However, I can understand why you might not want to buy the whole book for the sake of one interview that you can use, unless of course you are a particular fan of Kurosawa.

      link

    Vili Maunula

    Amazon.de indeed carries the book, if you are interested. The quotes I gave were direct, taken from Kurosawa’s answer to a question related to the Noh influence in the film.

    It is, of course, ultimately an interesting question why spirits ought to have gender to begin with.

      link

    Jeremy

    minx_c, I think your questions have been covered about as well as possible from anyone here.

    I’ve answered all the questions and Sanjuro and Vili has offer some great counters.

    Basically, I do think now that yamauba is a female, but it goes against some zen-buddism and Noh traditions of main charactered spirits being male to establish the correct gender hierarchy.

    I do believe there is a reason why a spirit’s mask is giving a gender but never the spirit, with is supported by the fact that all spirits in Noh has un-intonated voices.

    To say that changing genders is normal, can be a bit tricky.

    In Noh the men is the measure of all things, and there are Noh play inwhich gender changing occurs, however is more of a cross dressing way. Where a person/spirit is woman but then changes to male attire, although I believe technically still female, the spirit/person in Noh is giving male characteristics and higher hierarchy status. This is really crucial for the established society rules.

    There is a Noh play where a spirit warrior is clearly defined as woman, but is wearing male warrior clothing, but is treated thoughout as a male character. However upon the female warriors death, she is not allowed to die a warriors death and her female gender again is reduce down to fit typical customs.

    Outside spirits, there are also play in which male character are giving female attire and treated as females with a high status. If it points to a homoerotic theme, that is unknown, but they do focus on the “beauty of the young male”, but they are treated as though they are highly repected females, but since I believe that would go against customs, its the reason why the pretty male is regarded as a highly desired female.

    Out all the books I’ve read it all comes down to a large unknown, all pointing to the strange mixture of religion, entertainment, gender status and sex culture.

    Again my knowledge is limited, so I do want to come off as though I’m completely correct.

    There is a book I read only in part a few years ago, called:

    Theatricalities of Power: The Cultural Politics of Noh. (I dont know the author’s name)

    I do know it spends lots of time, going into gender in Noh. However it never does answer how spirits are to be considered, its a unknown I suppose.

Viewing 18 posts - 1 through 18 (of 18 total)



Leave a comment

Log in or Register to post a comment!