This atmospheric adaptation of Macbeth is the first of Kurosawa’s Shakespeare adaptations, but the last one I’ve seen. I watched Ran (King Lear) when I was quite young and I watched The Bad Sleep Well (Hamlet) a decade or so ago. I can’t compare this one to those other adaptations because it’s been too long but I loved both of those and this one I…liked.
There’s a really big emphasis in this film in terms of atmosphere. It was deliberately filmed in a foggy place, perhaps to add to the idea that this could be a place where one could encounter a spirit. (It’s a spirit in this version, not witches.) But though it looks great – the fog – I did find the “getting lost in the fog” thing to go on a little long. Getting lost in the forest worked better, in my mind, especially the effects around the spirit, which are pretty interesting for the time. (I also liked how they shot the chase through the forest, almost as if the spirit was watching them.)
I like the incorporation of Noh into the story. Most of the samurai films I’ve seen don’t have Noh in them, as far as I can remember, and this both reminds us this is a play, at bottom, but also creates a connection between Lady Macbeth and the spirit that is not explicitly present in Shakespeare. It adds an interesting angle to Lady Macbeth, and this version of the character is particularly interesting. As Jenn said, it feels like she is in charge.
I like how the score drops out when Macbeth starts going crazy. Prior to this point, the score is an interesting mix of traditional Japanese music and very modern Western film music. (In fact, the Western components feel quite influential on future films.) It’s a common trick but it’s a reliable one, to make a particular scene hit harder.
I also like the end, as much as the archers appear to be very, very bad at their jobs. It’s an appropriate spin given the new setting.
But I didn’t love the pacing and I didn’t love how the “lost in the fog” scene, which felt overlong and I can’t really see the value in it.