A Bit Flat
, 05 Aug 2013
This is not the best adaptation of Macbeth, but kind of worth it for the incredible climax. Although its elegantly shot and will therefore please people who misuse 'cinema is a visual medium' to equal 'if it looks pretty and isn't totally cheesy travelogue material, it must be good', there are several major problems with this. Firstly, it massively simplifies the actual very complex themes of the original work. All of the themes around the denial of the feminine in a macho world, and the sterility that result from it are gone (apart from Lady Macbeth's stillborn child in this version). Also missing in terms of psychological subtlety is any real sense of the irony of Washizu (the Macbeth figure) constantly verbalizing his own guiltiness and horror and reluctance to commit murder, but acting decisively, versus Lady Macbeth's putting up a display of merciless cool to her husbands face, only to be eaten with guilty on the inside. In this version Washizu is always frantic and afraid, never simply selfish and arrogant. The blood imagery is mostly (though there's a nice bit early on) replaced by generic mistiness, which keeps the emphasis wrongly on supernatural spookiness rather than human violence and evil. (Keeping more of the killing on-screen would have helped with this.) It wouldn't be fair-though it is tempting-to describe Mifune's lead performance as 'hammy' since after acting traditions are different in Japan (although I've never had any difficulty with the acting in Mizoguich period films from the 50s), but it certainly isn't the subtlest performance, and doesn't really survive the transition to the west in 2013. The actress playing Lady Macbeth is excellent, but playing her as weird and somehow off from the beginning rather than just determined and ruthless kind of takes the shock out of her latter descent into guilt-ridden psychological paralysis. Still, it's all almost worth it for the fantastic finale, in which Washizu is betrayed by his own men as 'Cobweb Wood' approaches the castle, and shot full of arrows on his own battlement. This is a version of Macbeth in which he is very much driven by a panicked 'murder first or be murdered later' fear, rather than just power-lust, even for the murder of the Duncan figure, but none of Mifune's exaggerated grimaces or rushing around in the rest of the film conveys this panic nearly as well as the scenes of him pinned down by arrows all around him on the wall and in his suit of armour, struggling in vane to move one way and the other.
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