The Cinema Behind Star Wars: Throne of Blood

Akira Kurosawa's 1957 masterpiece influenced both characterizations and themes in the prequel trilogy.

The films of Akira Kurosawa were a constant source of inspiration for George Lucas as he worked on the Star Wars films and today we’ll set our sights on the 1957 classic Throne of Blood.

Throne of Blood is Kurosawa’s samurai-era retelling of Shakespeare’s tragedy of Macbeth and centers around Toshiro Mifune (originally in the running as Obi-Wan Kenobi) as Washizu, a general who is prophesied to become the lord of Spider’s Web Castle. His wife goads him to make the prophecy become true by killing his lord and assuming his place, but paranoia and evil overtake him and his reign is ended violently.

The main character is introduced in a forest boiling in fog that creates mystical visions, much like the entire surface Dagobah. This is where Washizu is told that he will one day succeed his lord to become ruler himself, by a vengeful spirit that vanishes mysteriously after her message is delivered.

Hayden Christensen’s performance as Anakin certainly evokes the brooding frustration and paranoia of Mifune in Throne of Blood. He exudes the feelings of powerlessness in the face of a prophecy that you may or may not have a chance to influence, whether that’s the prophecy of the chosen one, the distress of Shmi Skywalker, or the potential loss of Padmé. And the themes of prophecy are rampant through the prequels, and leak into the hubris of Palpatine in the later installments of Star Wars.

Another aspect to the film that found its way into the mythos of the Sith is the murder of the master at the hands of the apprentice to take their place. The Sith are plagued by the paranoia of being murdered by their subordinates and Kurosawa’s film is the personification of such troubling fear. Many books in the Legends line of Star Wars, including Darth Plagueis, utilize the anxiety and nausea of making such terrible decisions to maximum effect in their telling of Sith stories.

But perhaps the moment that is mirrored most heavily between Throne of Blood and Star Wars is the choice given to the main character. In Throne of Blood, Mifune’s character is told that he can act to murder his lord in order to save his own life, or he could remain loyal and hope that he wasn’t murdered. The angst caused by this dilemma is mirrored in Anakin’s choice in Revenge of the Sith, when he’s given the choice between helping Palpatine or Mace Windu. After Anakin makes his choice the look of pained agony on his face is heartbreaking, and is a mirror of the trouble Mifune goes through after murdering his own lord and committing crime after crime to justify his actions.

In Throne of Blood, the two generals of the murdered leader, Mifune’s Washizu and Akira Kubo’s Miki find themselves at odds after a lifetime of friendship. Their relationship of camaraderie turning to revenge and betrayal is subtly explored in much the same ways we’d see Anakin and Obi-wan turn through the prequels.

With the connection to Macbeth and Throne of Blood, Revenge of the Sith might be one of the most Shakespearian of the Star Wars films and the tragedy is as well-wrought as it is heartbreaking.

For those of you interested in watching the film, it’s unrated in the United States (though Canada rates it a G and the UK rates it a PG), it’s atmospheric and creepy and dripping with paranoia and anxiety. Though the film can be violent, it’s completely bloodless. The film is in Japanese with English subtitles, so viewers will need to be able to read fairly quickly to enjoy it, but it’s a masterpiece of a film, often overshadowed by Kurosawa’s other, more popular works. I screened it for my kids in preparation for this article and they were quite taken with the Obi-Wan and Anakin-like friendship that turned to enmity in the film.

It’s not Kurosawa’s best film, but it’s certainly one of the greats and I’d definitely recommend you watch it.

Bryan Young is an author, a filmmakerjournalist, and the editor in chief of BigShinyRobot.com! He’s also the co-host of the Star Wars podcast, Full of Sith.

You can also follow him on Twitter.

 

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