I’m far from a completionist, but I have yet to see an Akira Kurosawa film that hasn’t amazed me on some level. This had been on my list for years since I saw Yojimbo, Rashomon and The Seven Samurai, so I was thrilled to finally get around to it.
Kurosawa did one hell of a job with his adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, illustrating a commanding general’s fall from 0 grace as he gives himself over to the human follies of arrogance, greed and the list for power. Toshiro Mifune is great here, balancing the occasional stagey, over dramatized lines of dialogue with some powerfully introspective looks and expressions. There is a raw animalistic element to his portrayal, as he slowly shows us a man driven mad by the obsession with filling a prophecy he believes, no matter the human cost. He emotes very well, building and building throughout the film until its monumental climax.
The legendary director doesn’t just infuse style into a literary adaptation, he merges those elements with a fundamental understanding of Japanese history and culture from hundreds of years prior. If you didn’t know the Macbeth story going in, it would play out as simply a very well made, impressive look at a tragic rise to power in feudal times. From the horror-dipped foggy shots of a spirit in the woods to the sweeping takes of horse-mounted soldiers riding in waves into battle to simple, stark looks at nature and landscapes, Kurosawa’s blend of elements firmly cemented one thing. He was a master of his craft. This is, simply put, great cinema at work, from the groundwork in its opening minutes to its iconic finale.