Shakespeare in Japan 2: Akira Kurosawa

Akira Kurosawa is considered Japan’s greatest film director. His work was greatly influenced by Shakespeare.

Akira Kurosawa is considered Japan’s greatest film director.  Film giants such as George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese have all acknowledged the impact this director has had on their films.  When looking at Kurosawa’s movies it becomes apparent that Shakespeare had a profound influence on him in terms of storytelling.

“Throne of Blood” told the story of “Macbeth” set in Feudal Japan.

His 1957 film “Throne of blood” retold the story of Macbeth set in a feudal Japan (i.e. Samurai instead of knights, feudal lords instead of kings etc.) with elements of Japanese Noh theatre (placing importance on stillness and silence for dramatic tension). The guardian’s film critic Derek Malcolm (1999) claims, “It remains a landmark of visual strength, permeated by a particularly Japanese sensibility, and is possibly the finest Shakespearean adaptation ever committed to the screen.”

“The Bad Sleep” well told the story of “Hamlet” set in Post world war 2 corporate Japan

His 1960 film “The bad sleep well” told a story similar to “Hamlet” set in a post World War 2 corporate Japan with elements of film Noir.

Finally, his 1985 film “Ran” is an adaptation of “King Lear” once again set in feudal Japan. To quote “New York Times” film critic A.O Scott (2009)

“Ran”, a bloodier and crueller version of “King Lear”

“The story in Ran is suggested by Shakespeare’s King Lear. An aging warlord usually accompanied by his fool decides to split up his land and his castle among his three sons. And as soon as he does this all hell breaks lose”.

In 1989 Akira Kurosawa received the Lifetime achievement award form the Academy of arts and sciences (The Oscars).  On March 23 2009 Anaheim University established an online course for digital film making. The course was named  The Akira Kurosawa School of Film in honour of the director.

Shakespeare has been retold and adapted in many ways by different cultures all over the world. Many have been enjoyable none of them have come close to matching Kurosawa’s brilliance.



Malcolm, Derek (March 4th 1999) Akira Kurosawa: Throne of Blood. The Guardian. Retrieved from

Scott, A.O (April 7 2009) Ran- Critics Picks-The New York Times. [Video file] Retrieved from


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