Riddle me this, Caped Crusader: how do you produce the greatest Shakespeare adaptation of all time without using a single line of Shakespeare? You give it to Akira Kurosawa, that’s how. Throne of Blood — his magnificent, peerless, stunningly powerful samurai version of Macbeth — opened in Japan this day in 1957. The great Toshiro Mifune turned in one of numerous brilliant performances as a noble lord driven to murder and madness, with Isuzu Yamada as his scheming wife. Kurosawa used the principles of Noh theater to enhance the drama, and created a story both uniquely Japanese and undeniably Shakespearean. For lovers of the Bard — or anyone who appreciates great filmmaking — this is one you just can’t miss.
Continuing our tradition of sort-of cheating by listing a film’s wide release date as opposed to its limited release date — to cover for the usual appalling crop of January films — Barry Levinson’s Good Morning Vietnam opened wide today in 1988. Ostensibly based on a true story, it worked largely because someone finally figured out how to make Robin Williams’ manic stand-up routine work in a movie, and could combine it with a quietly powerful anti-war treatise. Williams received an Oscar nomination for his performance (he lost to Michael Douglas in Wall Street), and the film currently ranks among his most beloved.
On the “less good, but still fun” side of things, The Book of Eli hit theaters today in 2010, featuring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman and Mila Kunis in a better-than-average post-apocalyptic actioner that hinges a bit too much on the final twist.