(1957, b/w; Kumonosu-jo, Japanese) Based on Shakespeare's Macbeth, but with the dialogue stripped down to bare essentials, director Akira Kurosawa, who also contributed to producing and writing the screenplay, fused the stylistic and severe Noh theater with the bard's play.
Set in feudal Japan - as in most Kurosawa films the weather plays a part with fog, wind, and rain - a choral song opens and closes the action: "ruins of delusion … scene of carnage, born of consuming desire." For turning the tide of battle against the foe, Inui's forces, the Great Lord calls his two courageous warriors, Washizu Taketoki (Toshiro Mifune) and Miki Yoshiaki (Minoru Chiaki), to Spider's Web Castle to receive their due.
On their way to the castle, the two become lost in the forest and fog, before coming upon an aged individual inside a hovel, spinning and singing about the "folly of suffering" in a life of meaninglessness. Recognizing both Washizu, commander of the first fortress, and Miki, commander of the second fortress, the spirit creature greets them and makes predictions about their future: as of that day Washizu will be lord of the North Garrison and eventually sovereign, while Miki will take command of the first fortress.
When Miki presses for further word of his future, the spirit cryptically utters that his "destiny is both smaller and greater than that of Washizu," for his son will one day rule. Initially the two men disregard the vision as a dream, the origin of one's basest desires; but when they reach the castle, the first promises of the prophecy are made manifest.
At the North Garrison, Asaji (Isuzu Yamada), Washizu's wife, expresses the suspicions of her heart, urging her husband to act on the foretelling before Miki betrays him to their sovereign. Opposing her counsel, Washizu says he is "perfectly content" to await the turning of events because Miki is a trustworthy friend from childhood and the Great Lord trusts and treasures his services.
Unexpectedly the Great Lord arrives incognito at North Garrison under the pretext of hunting in order to attack Inui; he promotes Washizu to vanguard commander for this assault. But when Washizu says to Asaji that his being so honored further disproves her wariness, she points out that he will be vulnerable in this mission while Miki has been sent to the safety of the castle. Let not this opportunity pass, she goads him: "Ambition makes the man."
She prepares a sleeping potion with sake for the Great Lord's three guards outside his room as he sleeps and hands her husband a spear for the murder. The commander of the guards, Noriyasu, blamed for the treasonous deed, flees with the prince toward the castle, pursued by Washizu. The "traitors" are denied entrance while Washizu, his men accompanying the Great Lord's coffin, are admitted.
Before the council, Miki advances Washizu's right of succession for a generation while Washizu promises to name his friend's son as heir. However, when Washizu explains to Asaji that since they are barren and this prize for Miki will further solidify loyalty to his sovereignty, thus he expects her to entertain their guests lavishly at a banquet for the occasion, she announces that she is with child.
Neither the distrust of his son's faith in a prophecy nor the ill omen of his horse's mad behavior serve to dissuade Miki's expectations of a transfer of power one day without bloodshed. At the celebratory banquet with neither Miki nor his son making an appearance, Washizu, suddenly seeing Miki's ghost, acts out his alarm. Asaji attributes his strangeness to overindulgence: "He has imbibed too freely." During a second incident of his outrage - "I'll slay you yet again!" - she advises everyone to mind him not and retire.
When a bearer of bad news lays Miki's head at Washizu's feet, the messenger is killed. Though Asaji's baby is stillborn and Washizu's foes have joined Inui's army, surrounding the castle, Washizu takes refuge in another of the spirit's prophecies that he cannot be defeated until the trees rise up against him: the path of bloodshed leads to the pinnacle of evil. Inside the castle his lady strives to cleanse the blood stains she imagines upon her hands.
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