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Throne of Blood: Faster Pussycat! Kill, Kill!

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    Below follow a few random notes on pop culture and cult film, relative to our film of the month:

    Russ Meyer’s cult film of 1965, Faster Pussycat! Kill, Kill! might occupy a similar contemporary cultural space as this month’s film de jour Throne of Blood. In his 1961 NY Times review, the critic Bosley Crowther thought “amusing” was the proper term for Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood.

    He elaborated, “We label it amusing because lightly is the only way to take this substantially serio-comic rendering of the story of an ambitious Scot into a form that combines characteristics of the Japanese No theatre and the American Western film.”

    Mr. Crowther points to “grotesquely brutish and barbaric” action, and sums up, “… and the final scene, in which the hero is shot so full of arrows that he looks like a porcupine, is a pictorial extravagance that provides a conclusive howl.”

    So, the film has this over-the-top cult quality of something rather garish…yet compelling…not unlike Meyer’s films. To get a glimpse of “Blood’s” cult status, just take a tour of YouTube videos that highlight the arrow scene! However much we may say Kurosawa disapproved of violence, there was also a kind of strange pleasure in that arrow scene-the kind of hypnotic, unforgettable strangeness that draws cult fans.

    Kids put the arrow scene to Tupac’s Gangsta’s Paradise (although, I can’t find it now that I am looking for it) and it shows up on the cover of Goodwin’s Akira Kurosawa and Intertextual Cinema book. The collapsed Mifune/arrow-pincushion is on the cover of Meyer’s book. (We famously see Mifune’s “dead” butt in 7 and Blood. How many films kill him off in the end? Bonus points for a quick answer.)

    In brief, then, Kurosawa takes the story line of Macbeth and makes it really odd and cool by making it happen within the Japanese feudal period, (fairly realistically in set design, atmosphere, costume and style) with references to Japanese high art-(Noh Theatre-in the staging, certain action scenes, facial performances and makeup).

    Of course I have read the critical reviews, but, as it has been noted before, the owners of culture are those who create it, and the mashups and clips of Throne of Blood on Youtube have more to do with the “awesomeness” and “weirdness” of the film-it’s pop appeal, than with Shakespeare or “high art”.



    Interestingly, “amusing” has never been a term that I have really associated with Throne of Blood, apart from perhaps the flower patterned pants that everyone is wearing in the film, making it look like they all put their armour on top of their pyjamas (very practical, of course).

    In any case, you are of course absolutely right Coco, Throne of Blood has gotten this image of “coolness”, and remains one of the most watched Kurosawa film. There are probably quite a number of film school students out there who have never seen or read Macbeth, but know this Kurosawa film by heart.

    One reason for this is probably the slightly over-the-top theatricality of the film’s directorial style, which is clearly intentional, and makes it “cool”. The arrow death scene is perhaps the best example of this. You could say that Throne of Blood is a series of carefully constructed compositions, which jump at you quite much more so than those in your typical Kurosawa film. I would say that despite of his masterful framing, character movement and camera use, Kurosawa’s films usually try to keep these qualities “under the hood” so to speak, without making us unnecessarily conscious of these things. But here the presentation is more full on.

    Apart from the “coolness factor”, it is also a fairly straightforward story that is easy to follow. We are at the very beginning told what to expect from the story, and so the main questions for us become “will it happen” or “how does it happen”, rather than “what will happen”. Throne of Blood is also one of Kurosawa’s best-paced films, with the story moving forward with just about the right rhythm. It is furthermore shorter than his other master works, making it more inviting for casual watchers to pick it than for instance a three-hour Red Beard.

    Or that’s my take on its popularity.

    And finally, off the top of my head the Kurosawa films where Mifune’s character dies at the end: Drunken Angel, Stray Dog*, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, The Bad Sleep Well. Did I miss some? 🙂

    (* See below.)



    Vili, you know how much I like Throne of Blood and I can’t refrain to jump in the conversation.

    What is exactly this ‘coolness’ you guys are talking about? What are the elements you can see as being ‘cool’ in ToB and what do you mean by ‘cool’, ‘odd’ or ‘weird’? How different is it from, say, Ran?

    I also have problems in seeing ToB as ‘amusing’ and I think that NY Times review is rather lenient. Contemporary film critics reduced ToB to a sort of ‘Macbeth in samurai style’, impossible to compare to Wells’s version.

    ToB is perfectly timed, sharp, condensed – these elements are more subliminal than what the Western audience can receive as outlandish setting. It would be interesting to delve more on the reception of the film in Japan, where the aesthetical canons of the film are not as alien as they might appear to us.

    Kurosawa’s modification of the script also reveals a shift in the interpretation of the moral of the play.

    I shouldn’t dare.. but I might go as far as saying that ToB is a modern and even better version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth 😯




    Firstly, I’ve been lurking on this site for a while now and I must say, it is clearly the best site in regards to Kurosawa without question. Secondly the reason I signed up was largely because what Vili said in this thread about Mifune’s deaths. He didn’t die in ‘Stray Dog’ man! Sorry, that was bugging me!

    Anyway a bit about me. I love Kurosawa, he’s my second favourite director behind Alfred Hitchcock. My third favourite director is Jean-Pierre Melville. Then Ozu Yasujiro, then Kubrick, then Wong Kar-Wai. I love film and I’m a big fan of Japanese cinema; contemporary and classic, but moreso classic. Also, Toshiro Mifune is my favourite actor. Stray Dog is my favourite Kurosawa film (unusual choice, I know, but who can resist a Japanese film noir directed by Kurosawa – I know I can’t). My least favourite Kurosawa is The Lower Depths which I consider to be one hell of bad film. But that’s just me.

    A little more about me. My name is Ryan, I’m 19 (20 this month) and live in London. After dropping out of university, I sort of fell into depression and have been out of work and struggling with finances for about 2 years now. Times are not good but film gets me away from all that.

    On the plus side I re-applied to university and I just got into film school. I had to make a short film (which I’d never done before) and write two essays – one essay about the short film submitted and one analysing a scene from a film. Naturally I chose ‘Stray Dog’, as not only do I love the nine minute silent scene but I thought it would be an easy scene to analyse. Problem was, my first draft of the essay was over 1,000 words whereas the film school application limited the essay to be a maximum of 500 words. Cutting down a film analysis, of a Kurosawa film at that, is one of the most difficult things to do. If anyone would like to read my essay I’ll be sure to post it here, although I’m not to sure anyone would bother reading it! At the interview for the film school, I saw the film theory professor gave it an ‘A’ which I was startled by because I don’t think it’s anything brilliant.

    But anyway I’m rambling and it’s great to be here. I’ve recently bought Donald Richie’s The Films of Akira Kurosawa, Third Edition upon seeing your review and am currently fascinated by it.



    Ryan: He didn’t die in ‘Stray Dog’ man! Sorry, that was bugging me!

    Hah, that is very true, indeed! I wonder how it got there. :mrgreen: I’m happy if my lapse got us a new subscriber, though! 😉

    Stray Dog is actually also one of my favourites. We also had some lovely discussion of the film last August, when the film club tackled the movie.

    Anyway, welcome to the group Ryan, and if you feel like posting your essay, feel free to open a new thread!

    And now back to Throne of Blood:

    Diego: What is exactly this ‘coolness’ you guys are talking about?

    I was thinking about the over-the-topness of the film that I mentioned earlier, its visual mastery and the way the movie is extremely dynamic and carefully constructed, with its superb pacing and edits. It is fast and furious, and at least on the surface doesn’t linger on at any point to ponder over the issues that it deals with.



    For what it’s worth, part of the ‘coolness’ factor may be the underlying story. ‘Macbeth’ was required reading in 11th grade, and a guy on my bus route who would charitably be classified as a ‘greaser’ liked it and got into it, despite the strange vocabulary and syntax, because of the violence.

    I must have seen this movie for the first time in 10th or 11th grade, because I remember being nuts enough to try to teach a class period on Kurosawa’s interpretation of ‘Macbeth’ in 11th grade English class. It wasn’t very successful considering that was in the days before VCRs and DVDs so I had no way to screen any of the movie.

    The only ‘amusing’ part of the movie for me, other than Mifune’s and Chiaki’s characters turning around and around in the same circle on their horses in the fog, was the witch, who seems mildly ridiculous until he or she speaks. Is that a guy playing the witch, by the way?

    Maybe there’s another thread for this already, but one of the big differences between this and the original source material, and part of the coolness factor for the movie, is the portrayal of the Lady Macbeth character. Kurosawa’s script makes her the prime mover behind all of this, seemingly giving Macbeth ideas he didn’t have before, whereas in the original she was helping him bring to fruition something he had dared to dream about himself but not believe. The actress’ portrayal of Lady Macbeth is one of the most chilling I’ve ever seen.



    Maybe Kurosawa was doing the first pre-Youtube “mashup” by combining elements of Noh, Shakespeare, feudal Japan, realism and fantasy and masterfully making them work together. It’s a sleight-of-hand magic trick!

    I do think that a whole field of “adaptation criticism” is out there on the horizon, waiting to get the full-throttle academic treatment. But, bollocks to all that, for now. I have no interest in going line-for-line through Shakespeare, and I doubt that Kurosawa had that interest either. It works as film or doesn’t. The story’s bones come with a wonderful pedigree: duh. Kurosawa took what looked good, what would work for him, and made it into a FILM. Emphasis on film, right?

    And, as much as Vili has said that there’s nothing been written of any interest to him on Seven Samurai , at least sincere appreciation is…well, truthful and heartfelt. I would have to say the quasi-intellectual spittle that flecks the critical field on Throne of Blood is generally more useless than anything I’ve read on “7”. I mean, I appreciate it, when reading, to see the actual words of Kurosawa when he is talking about showing his actors Noh masks in preparation for the film. But then, to read “…and the film was based on Noh drama…” means nothing, tells me nothing of use. I guess it’s the original source thing v.s. the Wikipedia thing, and a growing sense of “removed-from-the-source” kinds of criticism.

    Also most of this criticism is decades old. And, the recent stuff is just plain idotic. Derek Malcolm’s review of Throne of Blood in the UK Guardian actually says, “Kurosawa has been both criticised and praised for being the most Western and thus comprehensible of Japanese directors. The criticism is that his work is somehow not properly Japanese. And it is certainly true that the Japanese at one time rejected it, accusing Kurosawa of being too much in thrall to outworn traditions.”

    And, then goes on to tell us precisely NOTHING relevant to any of the above statements. Parroting old tidbits without actually exploring or investigating or explaining…is just plain stupid. And, it’s worse than stupid, because well, if someone says the “sky is red” enough times, and enough people start to say it, pretty soon, the word “blue” is replaced by “red” and it becomes a “fact”-when, in the case of cultural assumptions, that’s just so not cool. It leads to prejudiuice and lack of thought as opposed to real thinking, evaluating, appraising. I dare say that elaboration of the individual beauties and pleasures experienced by viewing Seven Samurai is more valuable to me than this rotten, anemic, decrepit game of “telephone” played by most critics.

    Hmmmm. I may need to take a chill pill. All worked up and no place to go.



    Not being the film school type, I never realised Throne of Blood was considered cool! But on my lastest viewing, I think it is. I must admit I didn’t really care for it so much when I first saw it. I think it was the whole predestination issue (that Vili addresses brilliantly in his other post) that put me off – this alienated me from the characters. But now I’ve had a closer look at it, I am almost embarrassed that I didn’t recognise just how dazzling a film it is on first look.

    Coco, I’m glad that sort of criticism you quote annoys you as much as it does me! Malcolm is usually a good critic, worth reading, but I get really mad every time I find those old tropes trotted out.

    I can’t find a link to it, but I did read something that implied that Crowthers leaving of the NYTimes was at least partly due to an implied racism on his part, especially towards Japanese movies (his biggest crime though seemed to be hating Bonnie and Clyde). He wasn’t especially nice about Seven Samurai either, and he seemed to give a very grudging thumbs up to Rashomon. I guess every critic is entitled to his blind spots.




    …”(his biggest crime though seemed to be hating Bonnie and Clyde).”

    you are killin’ me, man! Hilarious!



    coco, here is what Crowther thought of Bonnie and Clyde.

    I think we can conclude that he didn’t like the movie 😉



    Ugetsu, thanks for the link. I read the article with a guilty pleasure that stank of schadenfreude.

    And, I laughed out loud! But, then, I was thinking, Crowther said:

    “And he has staged the terminal scene of the ambuscading and killing of Barrow and Bonnie by a posse of policemen with as much noise and gore as is in the climax of The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre”

    And that made me think of how celebrated that violence was by other critics-what a sensation that last scene made…and then my gaze turns to porcupiney Mifune…at the end of Throne! Which brings us back to the beginning of this post and the coolness profile of ultraviolence…

    the whole human pincusion thing is so unbelievable and repellent but also compelling…it is so impossible to look away. That quite might be a recipe for a certain kind of success in filmmaking. All I am suggesting here, is that Throne Yojimbo , Sanjuro all have this violent bit-explosive, short, but man! Quite intense. And I keep seeing bits and pieces of these in Youtube mashups…



    All I am suggesting here, is that Throne Yojimbo , Sanjuro all have this violent bit-explosive, short, but man! Quite intense. And I keep seeing bits and pieces of these in Youtube mashups…

    That’s an excellent observation, Coco. Even in Red Beard, the little bit of action that we have leaves us with that warm and fuzzy feeling that you get when you have seen something “cool” and intense.

    It is interesting how different this is in Kagemusha and Ran. The dying horses turning around in the final scene of Kagemusha is still awe-inspiring, but also very terrifying. The long, muted battle scene in Ran is absolutely chilling. I wouldn’t call those scenes “cool”. Brilliant, yes.

    Of course, it’s not like all of Kurosawa’s early films are filled with cool violence, either. Actually, one of my favourite things about Rashomon is the way the violence is portrayed there. The last version of the duel that we see, as narrated by the woodcutter, is absolutely hilarious. Probably the most realistic, too!



    Vili-awesome reminder of the varieties of violence in Kurosawa’s fims!

    I would say, that, yes, Kagemusha and Ran scenes of violence have a much less complicated emotional tone-a much more harmonious, fluid, elegaic quality-as if one is already sad, and looking at the world through tears.

    Something like the blood spurt in Sanjuro though-is clearly “cooler” because it is so unexpected, startling, a bit funny and over-the-top, but also quite horrible-hence, more emotionally complicated. I think the violence is also underscored by the kids expressing admiration to Sanjuro for his kill-whereas Sanjuro whips around with anger at their idiocy in showing him respect for his skill when the kill is, in his estimation, a senseless death.

    In short, Kagemusha and Ran show the killing and death as senseless tragedies from the git-go and are not quite as cool.

    Your observation about the “realism” of the last duel in Rashomon also relates to another thread…(and I think you are right on!)

    Hey, but what is way way cool? The castle burning in Ran. AWESOME, dude!



    Coco: Something like the blood spurt in Sanjuro though-is clearly “cooler” because it is so unexpected, startling, a bit funny and over-the-top, but also quite horrible-hence, more emotionally complicated. I think the violence is also underscored by the kids expressing admiration to Sanjuro for his kill-whereas Sanjuro whips around with anger at their idiocy in showing him respect for his skill when the kill is, in his estimation, a senseless death.

    In short, Kagemusha and Ran show the killing and death as senseless tragedies from the git-go and are not quite as cool.

    Well put!



    saw throne for the first time. very amusing film!

    seriously, what a downer. agree with ugetsu about the whole predestination issue—without it, the story’s not a descendent of macbeth. with it, it’s a supernatural tale, and therefore outside the realm of most of kurosawa’s work i’ve seen, so i have to put some effort wrapping my head around the difference.

    somewhat random observation: for me, this is the kurosawa movie in which the special effects draw the most attention to themselves; the ghostly bamboo hut being lifted (or dismantled) out of the frame comes to mind. sure, there are special effects in his other movies, such as the jets of arterial blood and (i assume) the nocturnal scene in the hidden fortress in which the moon appears quite large and the background seems to be out of sync with the foreground, but throne’s bamboo hut was a special effect representing the supernatural. . . which struck me as unusual for a kurosawa film.



    ssj – you make an interesting point about the special effects. I think though its fair to say that there is a long tradition in Japanese cinema – which Kurosawa tapped into in later films such as Dreams, to use special effects which were deliberately chosen not to look ‘realistic’, but to enhance the theatricality and otherworldliness of the story. In other words, stage tricks that look like stage tricks. I suspect that a perfectionist like Kurosawa found special effects of the time too crude to use, which is why he would have avoided them in Seven Samurai, etc. But they would have been very appropriate for a story about ghosts and walking forests.



    I am reminded that “special effects” were developed in films such as “Gojira” at the same time Kurosawa was creating his work. He was great friends with Honda, right? So, it must have been in his mind, stored for use later in “Dreams”.

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