Adapting material from some origin is not something new that the film industry invented. Classical Greek playwrights adapted myths that had been passed in through oral tradition. And as soon as the
cinematographers recognized that presenting a story in moving picture required “good story”, so they started adapting story from novels, plays, short stories. Robert Stam discusses different sources of hostility towards the practice of adaptation. According to him, many have long viewed literature as being superior to film. He goes on to analyze the process of adaptation and the ways in which tie and
space are used differently in the two mediums. As per his view, “fidelity in adaptation is literally impossible. A filmic adaptation is automatically different and original due to the change of medium.”
‘Macbeth’ is one of the finest and acclaimed works by Shakespeare. The play also has an easy to understand plot line which has lent itself to numerous adaptations.
And one of those notable adaptations is the ‘Throne of Blood’ by Akira Kurosawa set in feudal Japan. Needless to mention that the central themes of the movie consist of tragedy, treachery, credulity and fallacy. However, to commence with the dissimilarities between the play Macbeth and Kurosawa’s movie, one among the other possible differences is their depictions of the battle at the opening stages of the plot.
The play Macbeth opens with grotesque imagery of the revolt, and the weather all muddles up, as informed by the witches seen in medias res (amidst) of their conversation. The captain reporting about the battle even describes Macbeth as unseeming one of his opponents. This type of gory imagery, however, is nowhere to be found at the start of Kurosawa’s film ‘Throne of Blood’,
instead it opens with the vast fog with a seemingly deserted and peaceful castle depicted behind the fog with a lamenting song, “Look upon the ruins of the castle of delusion haunted…”. It also features various captains reporting about the battle, but there are no depictions about the battle. The use of fog and the lack of violence, in the opening scene, set an uncertain tone for the rest of the film, and Washizu is not seen killing anyone that makes his future actions even more shocking. In fact, we witness Washizu’s innocence when he strongly resists the prophecy. As wherein Macbeth, the brutal portrayal of the battle in the beginning set a violent and dark tone right away, and thus, it makes Macbeth’s future killings somewhat less surprising. The shock factor of Washizu’s actions is also due o the fact that there are no witches at the start of the movie.
On the other hand, we encounter that the witches start the play by invoking the name of Macbeth, leaving a sense of suspicion in the mind of the reader that Macbeth may not be who he appears. In the movie, three witches are replaced with a single-spirit who is seen chanting a song that introduces Japanese traditions, Buddhism and feelings of humanity. The song mentioning karma and reincarnation comes straight from the Buddhist beliefs.
Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood and Shakespeare’s Macbeth also differ greatly in their portrayals of Lady Macbeth and Lady Asaji respectively.
In the play, Lady Macbeth makes her presence and intentions felt in her very first moments. She states, “Fill me from the crown to the toe topful of direst cruelty. Me thick my blood. Stop up the access and passage to remorse.” This quotation by her immediately warns the reader of her growing plans of evil.
Contrarily, in the movie, Lady Asaji (the equivalent to Lady Macbeth) makes it much more subtle entrance. She is first seen sitting peacefully in Washizu’s castle appearing as submerged in deep contemplation. Throughout her attempts to convince Washizu to kill Tshuzuki, she remains completely sedentary and shows no sign of any emotion, unlike Lady Macbeth who passionately uses strong imagery and vehement speech to ty to persuade Macbeth. And Asaji’s fixed expressions portray the use of Noh mask. As far as the movie is concerned, predominantly the character of Asaji, Kurosawa has adopted the aesthetic of the Noh elements.
It’s a cultural asset of Japanese theatre. It’s a classical form of dance-drama originated in Japan, and is popular since 14th century. There are several types of these masks used in Japanese theatre. And surprisingly, they are used by Kurosawa commendably through dramatis personae of Asaji. Director Kurosawa was overwhelmingly magnetized by Noh, “I like [Noh] because it is the real heart, the core of all Japanese drama. Its degree of compression is extreme, and it is full of symbols, full of subtlety. It is as though the actors and the audience are engaged in a kind of contest and as though this contest involves the entire Japanese cultural heritage . . . I wanted to use the way that Noh actors have of moving their bodies, the way they have of walking, and the general composition which the Noh stage provides.” (Extracted from an article by Minae Yamamoto Savas)
Lady Macbeth does not give Macbeth much of a reason to kill Duncan other than to solely attain power. Lady Asaji, on the other side, presents Washizu with the idea that Miki will inform about the prophecy to Tsuzuki that Washizu will ascend to the throne which in turn will lead to Washizu’s death at the hands of Tsuzuki. Despite her reserved nature, she is very deceptive and possesses contriving persona as she uses the prophecy of the witch to implant fear in the mind of Washizu. She also tries to justify the killing of Tsuzuki because Tsuzuki himself attained his throne by murdering someone, and also attempts to convince him that deep down Washizu himself carrying and watering the ambition to attain power, which is also the first time that she looks directly at him in the film. Lady Asaji like Lady Macbeth is a strong evil presence although she is portrayed in a much different manner.
Another difference between the movie and the play is existence of the lack of recognition of eternal ramification for Washizu’s actions in the movie, whereass, in the play, apprehension regarding the afterlife plays a prominent role in Macbeth’s psychological struggles with respect to his decision to kill Duncan.
In Act 2, scene 1, Macbeth states, “I go, and it is done. The bell invites me. Hear it not Duncan, for it is a knell that summons thee to heaven or to hell.” He knowingly chooses temporal power on earth rather than eternal glory in heaven, a decision that he later realizes that he cannot undo which leads to his supposedly eternal damnation in hell. And in Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, however, heaven and hell are never referred to. This is ofcourse largely because of the film’s Japanese origin. Instead, it’s Washizu’s contemplation of the goodness of his friend Miki that drives his inner conflict perpetrated by his wife.
The adaptation of literary works into films do distorts the original text. But we should not forget that these adaptations, like what Kurosawa did, are filmed establishing the text on different period of time, background, and geo-political settings. Although film was initially regarded by some as sucking the life out of a literary text, a view forcefully articulated by Theodore Dreiser in 1932, “Film adaptation of novels is not so much a belittling as a debauching process, which works harm to the mind of the entire world. For the debauching of any good piece of literature is – well, what? Criminal? Ignorant? Or both? I leave it to the reader.”
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