We have seen a couple of Macbeths on Broadway recently, with the portraits by Alan Cumming and Ethan Hawke being less than imperishable (although I suppose you can say that they were memorable). What's more, we have Kenneth Branagh's Macbeth to look forward to in June at the Park Avenue Armory. In the midst of these, Criterion has brought us Toshiro Mifune's portrayal of Shakespeare's Thane. Not of Cawdor, exactly; this one, going by the name of Washizu, is Lord of Spider Web Castle, in Akira Kurosawa's 1957 classic "Throne of Blood." Washizu is a Samurai general in feudal Japan. Mifune has none of Shakespeare's dialogue, but he is Macbeth just the same.
In some ways Kurosawa gives us a new way to look at Shakespeare's tragedy, as the trappings are different and the words are Japanese. The power of the story, though, and the emotions of Macbeth and his Lady are there for us to see and feel even without the imperishable dialogue. Watch Asaji (Lady Macbeth) try to rub that damned spot off her hands; the words are different, everything is different, but it's the same and it's spinetingling.
Kurosawa is at his best here, shooting in the forests and through the fog of Mt. Fuji. The final battle is unparalleled: Washizu is ambushed and riddled with arrows, like a stuck pig. Mifune —who also starred in Kurosawa's "Seven Samurai" and "Rashomon" — gives another expert performance as a ruler overcome by fear, terror and a Machiavellian spouse. Isuzu Yamada as Asaji is perhaps more stunning than any Lady Macbeth you've seen. Kurosawa gives us a scene where she exits the room through a screen, into the dark, and returns a moment later with a pitcher filled with poisoned saki and a look so deadly that you read the terror. The next scene starts with a shot of the drugged guards sprawled on the floor, with the pitcher strategically placed.
Criterion accompanies the new restoration with three different subtitle translations (which are discussed in the accompanying booklet). Also included is a documentary on the making of the film taken from the Toho Masterworks series "Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create."
"Throne of Blood" — or "Kumonosu-jo," as it is known in Japanese — is presented in a dual-format edition containing both Blu-ray and DVD.
Broadway Records has issued "From Broadway with Love: A Benefit Concert for Sandy Hook" on DVD and CD. This was a benefit concert for the Sandy Hook/Newtown community held Jan. 28, 2013 at the Palace Theatre in Waterbury, CT, bringing together 100 Broadway performers with some 300 students from Sandy Hook schools and groups. Among the talent — at least, as represented on the DVD — are Julia Murney, Stephen Schwartz, Christine Ebersole, Richard Kind, Phillip Boykin, Mary Testa, Michael Cerveris (singing "Sunday" from Sunday in the Park with George with the Newtown High School Chamber Choir), Nikki Blonsky, Marc Shaiman, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Capathia Jenkins, Linda Eder and Frank Wildhorn. 100 percent of the profits go to the Newtown-Sandy Hook community.
(Steven Suskin is author of "Show Tunes", "The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations," "Second Act Trouble," the "Broadway Yearbook" series and the "Opening Night on Broadway" books. He also writes the Aisle View blog at The Huffington Post. He can be reached at email@example.com.)
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