The Scottish Play goes to Japan in this reimagining of Macbeth from Akira Kurosawa. Is that a samurai sword I see before me?
Toshiro Mifune gives an intense lead performance as the original Mac the Knife, AKA Taketoki, with a magnetic lazer-pointed stare. His hauntingly vacant wife Asaji (Isuzu Yamada) feels so otherwordly she’s less like the legendary Shakespearean shit-stirrer and more like her husband’s own dark inner thoughts projected back to him. And the pair are bolder than their Shakespearean counterparts, since they’re forced to do their scheming in rooms with paper walls.
Kurosawa creates a film thick with atmosphere from beginning to end – essential for a good Macbeth. The barren, misty hills feel very much like Japan’s answer to the Scottish Highlands and Kurosawa’s commitment to outdoor filming creates a visual quality to last. The moving forest is particularly well-handled, and a sequence in which arrows are fired at Taketoki is remarably realistic – and looks like it was very scary to film.
The story of Macbeth is interesting in that the circular logic of self-fulfilling prophecy is close to that of time travel, but written in a time before the concept of time travel was conceived of. Yet it essentially highlights the same paradox as The Terminator, but with foresight in place of back-travel. Once heard by the main agent, do prophecies have to be either self-fulfilling or false?
It winds up at a conclusion arguably more satifying than the one written by Shakespeare, proving Jamiroquai right that paranoia will, indeed, destroy ya. And by the time the hurly-burly’s done the battle may not be lost or won, but we do get both a faithful and atmospheric adaptation, and a bold reimagining.