In the upcoming episode, we deal with a problem that MOST creatives have to face on their journeys: HATERS. It’s a sensitive issue as sometimes it involves the people who are closest to us… and sometimes requires us to flush them down the proverbial drain. If you’re dealing with these kind people on your road to creative liberation, then you’re not alone. Stay tuned for inspiration, support, and tips on how to get the dark clouds of negativity out your life and make room for artistic sunshine!
Okay, okay. So it’s kiiinda random that I’m talking about Throne of Blood out of the blue, but since I recently had to screen and then write a paper on it, I decided it’d be a GREAT opportunity to share my thoughts on it with you guys!
SO! CUT AND PASTE POWER, ACTIVAAATEE!!!
Just as a primer, Throne of Blood IS AMAZING. Really a top notch film adaptation of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and is highly recommended for all you aspiring screenwriters and filmmakers out there. I hope that my analysis of it will help you become a better filmmaker and also inspire you to become a Kurosawa fanatic, as I am. 🙂
The Badassery of Throne of Blood by Akira Kurosawa: Macbeth in Translation
One thing I loved about Throne of Blood was that nature and the elements were a character that told a story all on their own. Kurosawa made sure to use the elements to create an incredible and also hyper-realistic mise-en-scene that really drove home the physical environment and conditions under which this feudal society lived. Our sheer powerlessness against things we cannot hope to control becomes a major theme in the movie, manifested in the far-reaching landscapes, the dark and towering mountains, the impenetrable fogs, the relentless winds, and the torrential rains that constantly beat down upon the characters with their limitless fury. These are forces that, ultimately, cannot be defeated by the wills of man but that must be weathered until they subside. The very futility of man trying to control his fate is not only embodied in the elements, but also in all of the songs sung throughout the film, which, in themselves sound like mournful winds.
The elements also became a force to be reckoned with as the characters struggled to find their ways through to their own destinies. This journey was manifested in the most obvious way when Captains Miki and Washizu literally got lost in the forest in which the evil spirit lived, which is just a more microcosmic foreboding of the tortured wandering that the two men (especially Washizu) will endure throughout the entire movie. The spirit used nature and the elements then to transform the world from a simple and bewitching mise-en-scene into one that stood as representative of entrapment, terror, and eternal haunting. It was she who did not allow the noble captains Miki and Washizu to leave the forest and head home to begin with; instead, she used nature and inclement weather to re-route them back to her hut, where she gave them the prophecy that would incite their ultimate doom.
Another wonderful thing about the use of nature and the elements, though, from a craft perspective, is that it allowed Kurosawa to compose some truly breathtaking and visually compelling images. In nearly every single shot there is movement, especially when we are looking at wide shots that compose man and nature together at the same time, as though both are physical characters. This is both visually exciting and emotionally resonant. In many other films, characters tend to travel through landscapes that seem rather tame and unruffled, with man as the dominant figure superimposing his own control over the world that lies before and beneath him. Kurosawa, on the other hand, bucks this trend, and through visual composition, he brings us back to the real and natural truth: that nature is wild, forceful, unstable, and untamable, and that man can barely hope to survive it, much less conquer it.
Another aspect of this film that I loved is that, aside from nature, it is both hyper-realistic and surreal, all at the same time! “Ghosts and blood” is the single phrase that comes to mind with regard to Thrones of Blood, both as the overriding theme and in the real presentation and composition of the film itself.
With regard to its hyperrealism, Kurosawa makes a lot of incisive directorial decisions regarding color, composition, and directing. I think specifically of Kurosawa’s portrayal of Lady Asaji Washizu (played by Isuzu Yamada), who, when first introduced is as immobile, creepy, and as mysterious as the evil spirit in the forest who has given Captain Washizu the prophecy. Asaji, like the spirit, kneels on the floor and does not look at her husband, but looks down, both seeing and unseeing. She speaks with the forest spirit’s same rolling cadence and gritty rhythm while delivering her opinion of Washizu’s future, and she also remains completely emotionless and monotone, as though possessed by the spirit itself. In sharp contrast to Captain Washizu, who sports bright and bold colors throughout the scene, Asaji is dressed in white and looks pale and washed out (again, much like the forest spirit). The ongoing resemblance between the spirit and Asaji is uncanny– in appearance, mannerism, and in gender.
Lady Asaji appears to have ghost-like qualities again in Kurosawa’s brilliant shot of her as she disappears into a dark back room and then re-emerges with the drugged wine that she will give the guards. Her slow, ghost-like fade into the black depths of the space, along with her gradual re-emergence in a similar manner, is honestly one of the most brilliant shots I have ever seen in film. What a way to embody walking death– with silent, ominous fades into darkness! It is this combination of realism and hyper-realism, similarity and contrast, that elevates Kurosawa’s translation of Macbeth into the cinematic stratosphere.
On the other hand, the ways in which Kurosawa is directly hyper-realistic is his use of sheer mass: hundreds of bodies on screen that represent realistically what a feudal Japanese army looks, sounds, and feels like. We hear the heavy clacks of Japanese armor, hear the whispers of the hundreds of flags as they move, feel the crescendo of pounding hooves as the battles rage on between the clans. Every single one of his shots is filled with the textures of humanity and brutality, both in the physical and the emotional sense.
From the large battle scenes with the hundreds of soldiers, horses, and trees moving in an organized chaos to the scene of silent consent wherein soldiers are galvanizing (without speaking) under Washizu’s words to the final scene where Captain Washizu himself is struck down by hundreds of arrows, Kurosawa remains relentlessly committed to a realistic portrayal and experience of the events. It is even said that Kurosawa used real, live expert archers to create Washizu’s execution on film (Blair 1)! Even crazier is that Toshiro Mifune (the actor who played Washizu) was instructed to flail his arms in particular directions. These movements were to notify which direction he planned to move and stumble, so that the archers knew where to aim and where not (so that they wouldn’t accidentally hit him) (Blair 1).
Aside from how he manages a visual translation of Macbeth, Kurosawa makes some key textual decisions about the translation as well. One of the artistic liberties he takes is with dialogue. He sticks more closely to the actual story than he does to the actual dialogue, and mercifully so. While his imagery packs a punch in every frame, Throne of Blood’s dialogue, and thus its main cast, is kept trim and austere. He discards Shakespeare’s poetic prose for a language that is more appropriate of feudal Japan and of the built-in social hierarchies of the Japanese language (which are especially important to both feudal and modern day society). Not only do these dialogue cuts allow for a more heightened verisimilitude, but it also underscores Kurosawa’s focus on image-based storytelling rather than text-based storytelling. For film, the use of images drive home the power and resonance of a scene far more effectively than the soliloquies of the stage.
For example, in the original Macbeth, Lady Macbeth is stricken by sleepwalking, and in her night haunts, we hear her mourn and roil over her involvement in the conspiracy to kill the king and all her former friends. This is the infamous “Out, out damned spot!” monologue that shows us that her guilt has literally driven her to madness. Later we even hear that she has killed herself via violence from her own hands. As is, this scene requires the addition of two extra characters, who discuss her condition in an expository manner as they watch her sleepwalk. This discussion is clearly for the benefit of the audience, as they are talking about things of which both are already aware. In film, though, one does not have the benefit of addressing the audience in such a manner. Other means must be used, and thus, so Kurosawa steps up to the plate with his own vision.
In Throne of Blood, Lady Asaji is met with a similar fate as Lady Macbeth, but with some key exceptions. For one, Asaji had been pregnant with her husband’s child. However, the child was ultimately born stillborn, putting Lady Macbeth at death’s door. This “double death” deals Asaji’s character the karmic blow we’ve all been waiting for, but with consequences more far-reaching than expected: not only has she been cursed with her own impending physical and emotional death, but now her innocent child has been killed by proxy, thus initiating the death of her and her husband’s entire bloodline. Lady Macbeth’s original desire for her “breastmilk to be turned” to gall translates into Lady Asaji’s womb literally becoming a coffin. In this, we get lead to the third and final death that Lady Asaji will experience: a psychological death, via the madness brought on by both the loss of her child and the guilt for her role in the murders.
The scene wherein the audience gets to experience Asaji’s said madness is fraught with movement and terror. (This is yet further evidence of Kurosawa’s literary, theatrical, and cinematic fluency.) No words are spoken as Captain Washizu approaches the room where his wife abides. He hears only screams and sees the flight of Asaji’s handmaidens as they flee an unknown horror, which we don’t see until the end of Washizu’s hallway trek. We are instead held in a deep suspense as Captain Washizu’s body is meleed by the fleeing servants. The servants are so blinded with terror that they do not see him and end up slamming into him, bowing only when they realize that their master is present. It is a beautiful and frightening scene, heightened by black flying hair and soft, wild robes, again in a sharp contrast to Washizu’s bold, hard, and unyielding presence. As the servants take flight like birds (much like the same birds who just filled Washizu’s room with bad omens only moments before), the camera slowly pans with Washizu, forcing us to stay with him as he seeks to find his wife.
When he finally finds her in the room, she is hidden behind a hanging kimono, which he rips back, and we see Asaji bent over a bowl manically washing her hands (with no water). She sobs over her inability to get her hands clean, over how they stink with blood. No matter how much she washes, she can never get the blood off. Washizu tries to get through to her, even going so far as to scream her name, but she doesn’t seem to see him. She is stuck in the dark labyrinths of her own mind, and no one can reach her again. Hence, her third and final death.
In this way, Kurosawa is using the film medium to its full potential, bringing costume, staging, scene design, composition, framing, minimal dialogue, and camera movement together to drive home the emotional and psychological resonance of the scene. He breaks free of the theatrical and soliloquized shackles of the original Macbeth and uses all of the cinematographic tools available to him in order to bring new nuances to an old classic.
One final but most important adaptive tool that Kurosawa uses in his translation of Macbeth is that the film is deeply embedded in Japanese Noh theatrical tradition. Through the use of music, chanting, lyrical portends of doom (which bookend the movie), costume design, makeup, and more, Kurosawa uses the full range of theatrical techniques that the Noh tradition provides. Strangely, Kurosawa was criticized for using this tradition and was accused of being “stuck in the past” by his contemporaries (Blair 1). Even the quickest glimpses into his merging of Noh theatre, cinematographic technique, and a timeless story of blood and ghosts, however, will quickly show us that his contemporaries were wrong.
In both the broadest and the lightest of strokes, Noh theatre traditions bring a deeper dimensionality to the look, meaning, and impact of Throne of Blood. For example, one may notice that Lady Asaji’s face is made up to look precisely like the fukai mask used in Noh theatre. The fukai does not only denote age, but is representative of “the sorrow of the woman who has lost her child” (Savas 21). The sorrow shown in the fukai is both stated and unstated as the mask seems both expressive and neutral all at once. The neutrality and quiet insidiousness of the mask’s inexpression is a perfect exemplar of what Minae Yamamoto Savas calls “the hidden power of the dark side of human nature” (Savas 21) that will, in its silence, drive Asaji to an internal madness.
Throne of Blood also borrows themes and story slivers from a well-known Noh play called Black Mound (called Kurozuka in Japanese), which tells tale of a woman who takes in two monks and entertains them by spinning thread on a wheel. When she leaves to gather more wood for the fire, she instructs the monks to not look into her bedroom; one of them does, however, and discovers a pile of skeletons, whereupon the monks realize that the old woman is actually a demon (Savas 22). The masks, the old woman, the songs, the spinning wheel, the music, the instruments, the skeletons, and the morals these things carry… all small but important and deliberate selections that Kurosawa makes in order to bring deeper nuances to not just the film itself but also the original story.
In conclusion, I loved Kurosawa’s Throne of Blood, even more than I loved Macbeth! Not only is it an amazing adaptation of Shakespeare’s original work, but it is one that also brings its audiences into the values, culture, social mores, theatrical traditions, and historical context of both feudal and modern Japanese society. Both a masterpiece as well as a cultural treasure, while Throne of Blood will not replace Macbeth, it will certainly stand alongside it in history as one of its worthiest equals and best adaptations by far.
- Blair, Gavin J. “1957: When Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Throne of Blood’ Was Ahead of Its Time.” The Hollywood Reporter [Los Angeles] 16 Mar. 2016, News sec.: 1. Print.
- Savas, Minae Yamamoto. “The Art of Japanese Noh Theatre in Akira Kurosawa’s “Throne of Blood”.” Bridgewater Review 30.2 (2011): 19-23. Web. 10 Mar. 2017.<http://vc.bridgew.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1279&context=br_rev>.
- Throne of Blood. Dir. Akira Kurosawa. Perf. Toshiro Mifune and Isuzu Yamada. Dailymotion. Toho Company, Kurosawa Production Company, 19 July 2013. Web. 10 Mar. 2017. http://www.dailymotion.com/video/x122jr4_throne-of-blood-1957-pt-1_creation>.
In the upcoming episode, I reflect pretty deeply on the birth, growth, and evolution of Rebel Ragdoll. For those of you lovely newcomers, Rebel Ragdoll is my independent, female-identified, multimedia brand dedicated to increasing the presence and impact of female creatives in the creative industries, genres, and mediums in which they are underrepresented.
Basically, we help women connect with their creative talents, prowess, and power and help them to produce badass novels, films, and games independently. Our focus is sci-fi, fantasy, horror and the paranormal, thrillers, action-adventure, crime, and noir(e).
The journey from 2011 until 2017 has been an insane educational one, so in this podcast, I sum up many of the lessons and nuggets I’ve learned over the years! So stay tuned if you wanna learn from the school of hard knocks…but without the knocks, lol! 😉
SO! 2016 was a whirlwind year for The Bohemian Badass, despite the fact that there was little happening on our website.
I spent a LOT of time behind the scenes working on some fundamental and foundational aspects of the blog and business, and now in 2017?
WE’RE READY TO ROCK!
Before we blast off, I just wanted to offer you guys a super sneak peek at what I’ve been working on for y’all. (And, of course, there’ll be some awesome hints (or not so hinty hints) on what is coming for 2017!)
Check out our creative achievements for The Bohemian Badass this year.
1. Grew The Bohemian Badass site, scope, and skills (slow and steady)!
I not only tweaked and evolved The Bohemian Badass, but I also tweaked and evolved as a creative coach! I realized what I enjoyed doing and what I didn’t, and I also dove head-first into new kinds of “coaching” methods, including giving masterclasses and boot camps! (Which I LOVE, by the way.)
Some of the chief things I accomplished with/through the Bohemian Badass included:
- A stark website rebrand and evolution
- A BRAND rebrand, chiefly with a font upgrade! (you’ll see more of this when I officially transition in 2017!)
- 6 blog posts written and published (yes, sad, I know! But I’ll get better this year!)
- Soft launch of the B-Badass Podcast + 2 podcasts recorded and published
- 4 live masterclasses given on Writing Badass Metaphor
- 1 15-day Periscope Bootcamp launched on “Crushing Writers’ Block”
More blogs, more podcasts, more evolution, and more courses are going to be the push for this year at The Bohemian Badass. I’m focusing on making the posts, blogs, vlogs, and podcasts more consistent every week with the occasional FREE upgrade goodie included for you! Stay tuned!
2. Developed a production protocol for the courses I’m building for The Bohemian Badass!
This was exciting! I tend to be pretty methodical, and while I do dive headfirst into most things, I also tend to do a lot of research, testing, and tweaking until I develop a process for creating a product.
This might seem like a waste of time for most folks, but for me, having a solid method and protocol for building a product allows you to assess your progress and mark that product’s milestones on the way to completion.
So I’m introducing you all to MY protocol for creating courses.
Here it is:
Concept —- Outline —- Course Diversity Plan —- Course in Beta —- Course in Alpha —- PUBLISH!
- (Concept)ualization is that I have an idea for a course that I’d like to create, and I’ve fleshed out and brainstormed that idea. I’ve identified a gap in the market or an unfulfilled need or my community merely tells me what they want, and I develop a course concept to fill those needs.
- Outlines represent the courses that I have enough material for such that I can start creating modules and lessons for them. At this point, each module is just a one-line title of what will be covered in the course and each lesson is a step-by-step roadmap towards fulfilling the title’s goal.
- Course diversity plans are ideas of the different formats I’d like the course to appear in. Will it be just a masterclass, a workbook, a full course, or all three? Can this course be combined with another course to give you guys maximum value? Etcetera.
- Course in Beta: this is where I’m developing the actual material and lesson plans for the course. Rough drafts and idea dumps are common in the beginning of this phase; the worksheets and materials haven’t been prettied up yet, either. The focus is mostly on getting the content of the course on point and on providing the best, clearest, digestible information and materials possible. This is where my courses spend the MOST time in production. The final part of this process is that I invite beta-testers into the course for free so that they can go through it and give feedback!
- Course in Alpha: After the feedback has been received by the beta testers, I polish the content. Then, I bust out the graphic design skillz and start making all the materials pretty! I design a logo for the course, build a brand board, choose brand colors, form a hashtag, create the webpage and hosting space, record the presentations, edit videos, and WAY more. I like my courses sleek and chic in their physique, if you get what I mean.
- PUBLISH! The course is ready for its students! Come one, come all, and upgrade your skillz to the max!
So yeah, looks intense and complicated, but this is what it takes to produce the highest quality work (according to my own standards). Plus, as I push my courses through these phases, the process gets faster and easier. Maybe if you’re considering being an infopreneur and course creator yourself, you might want to adopt a similar protocol! 😉
3. Conceptualized 18 craft courses for The Bohemian Badass School for Creatives
Now that you know more about my production process, I can introduce you to my production pipeline!
One thing I learned? I. LOVE. CREATING. COURSES. Love it! So that’s going to be a major method of delivering you guys the best craft material out there. Courses + masterclasses. I love creating courses SO MUCH that I conceptualized 18, yes, E-I-G-H-T-E-E-N, of them this year. Yowzas, lol.
I’d love to give you a peek as to what those are, but there are WAY too many to list out here. Plus I don’t want to give away ALL my secret sauce! You’ll just have to stay tuned to our blog, podcast, and masterclasses to find out what they are! 😉
Seeing what direction I wanted to take our Badass content was loads of fun. Of course, I have my own ideas, but more importantly, I’ll be asking you guys about YOUR ideas and concerns in the not so distant future.
In order to better serve you, I need to know what you’re interested in learning, right? So stay tuned and, when I start asking, let your voice be heard!
4. Developed 9 in-depth course outlines & diversity plans for The Bohemian Badass School for Creatives
Here’s a hearty list of the courses that I’ve outlined and diversified:
- Metaphor Maven (full course)
- Writers UnBlocked: The Pre-writing Edition
- Writers UnBlocked: The Chapter Writing Edition
- Breaking Badass
- Novel Kickstarter
- Plot Like a Badass
- Description Deity
- Write Badass Action Scenes
- Writing the Cinematic Novel
5. Moved 3 courses into BETA!
I had to produce the materials pretty quickly, but after all was said and done, I ended up with a LOT of course material that I fashioned in BETA-level courses. So NOW, I have three courses on the horizon for this year, included:
And, of course, I fashioned that material into BETA-level courses.
So NOW, I have three courses on the horizon that I can offer you guys in 2017, including:
- Metaphor Maven (masterclass)
- Writers UnBlocked: The Pre-Writing Edition
- Writers UnBlocked: The Chapter Writing Edition
And the best part? Two of them are 100% FREE! Stay tuned! 😉
6. Moved 2 courses into ALPHA
Writers UnBlocked: The Pre-writing Edition and Metaphor Maven (masterclass) are the two courses that I’m currently working on turning into alpha-level courses. And as soon as they are done, you’ll hear about them and be able to join them!
Now, how is that NOT badass?
Yeah, bruh. Courses, courses, everywhere! But this year, it’s also time to get some consistent intel up on on the website. So starting THIS WEDNESDAY, with a brand new podcast, I’ll be seeing you guys on The Bohemian Badass and giving you the best intel on novel writing, screenwriting, filmmaking, and game design EVA! In the meantime? HAPPY NEW YEAR! And…