The Akira Kurosawa movie Throne of Blood is a phenomenal work of cinema that brings the brilliance and intensity of Shakespeare’s Macbeth to feudal-era Japan. The picture stars Toshiro Mifune as the Macbeth equivalent, Washizu, and he delivered a performance of a truly mesmerising nature with an authenticity that stretches beyond most actors’ wildest imaginations.
Even the most courageous stuntman would have feared what Mifune was put through when Kurosawa decided the best course of action for the film’s climax was to shoot real arrows at the actor. The move reflects the ideals that the iconic Japanese filmmaker had in pursuing a state of believability in all his works, although Mifune might have had his doubts.
The Throne of Blood set decorator and prop master Koichi Hamamura once explained how he and Kurosawa used real arrows in the legendary scene in the Toho Masterworks film Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create. “Arrows rained on him [Mifune]. All the arrows that struck him were my work,” he began.
When asked whether he put needles on the arrowheads, Hamamura admitted, “Yes, I did. There were much thicker needles, like needles for antique phonographs. I showed the rigged arrows to Mifune and explained how they would be used. When nobody was around, Mifune and I did a practice run.”
Naturally, one might think that even the iconic actor Mifune would be a little fearsome of being rained down on by a volley of arrows, but according to Hamamura, he merely agreed, stating, “Oh, I can work with this,” which is further testament of his bravery and talent as one of Japan’s all-time great performers.
Thankfully, though, Mifune only had to film the scene on one day. Hamamura told of how the scene came to a wrap, “After filming the scene, Mifune asked, ‘Are we done today?’ I replied, ‘Today, yes’. Then he asked, ‘And tomorrow?’ I said, ‘Mr. Kurosawa was saying we won’t do it tomorrow.’ He said, ‘Good! Let’s drink tonight.’ When I returned to the prop room, he came in with bottles of beer, and we had a rowdy night of drinking.”
No wonder that Mifune needed a drink after being shot at with real arrows, and he was said to have a few recurring dreams of the incident over the following days. But the audacious decision of Kurosawa and the ever-bolder move by Mifune to go along with it is precisely what makes the scene one of the film’s best.
Throne of Blood serves as a work of art that showcases the brave moves that are made in the name of authenticity and the want to push the boundaries of the cinematic medium. Kurosawa’s film is already dripping in Shakespearean intensity, but even the bravest of The Bard’s actors might have thought twice before literally putting themselves on the firing line.