The Man Who Conquered Kurosawa's Throne of Blood

11/09/2010 4:00 AM |

100 years after the birth of one cinema's greatest directors, BAM is celebrating Akira Kurosawa's work not only with a repertory series of some of his masterpieces, but also with the New York premiere of a new stage adaptation of his film Throne of Blood. As part of this year's Next Wave Festival, BAM presents New York-based stage director Ping Chong's adaptation of Kurosawa's story of feudal Japan, which is itself an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Commissioned in part by and premiered earlier this year at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Chong's reimagining of Throne of Blood runs at BAM from November 10-13. Interested in the process behind adapting such an important film for the stage as well as some of the director's other projects, I interviewed Chong by email as he wrapped up a production of one of his other recent works at The People's Theater in Xi'an, China.

The L: What led you to this production? Had you been hoping to work with Kurosawa's Throne of Blood for some time, or was this the result of a commission or collaboration?
Ping Chong: All of the above. I first thought of adapting Throne of Blood to the stage when I saw it, when it first came out, but the scale of the project was daunting and I put it to the back of my mind. About three years ago, Bill Rauch, Oregon Shakespeare Festival's Artistic Director, asked me if I would be interested in directing a Shakespeare play. It was an intriguing, even bold, suggestion. I have never directed a Shakespeare play. I read many, but my mind kept coming back to Throne of Blood, so I suggested it as an alternative and he was very enthusiastic about the idea. Ultimately, Oregon Shakespeare Festival commissioned me to adapt the film and stage it as part of its 75th season. We introduced Bill to Joe Mellilo of BAM, who signed on as a co-commissioner. This is my 4th production in the Next Wave Festival (The Games, Angels of Swedenborg, Chinoiserie, and now Throne of Blood), and it is a thrill to be back at BAM.

The design and aesthetic experience is central to all of Kurosawa's films. What has your relationship with your designers been like in this show? How much did you let Kurosawa's aesthetic choices influence the look of your stage adaptation?

I have tried to honor Kurosawa's vision while adjusting the text and design elements to the stage. Kurosawa references the Noh Theatre in several places in the film, so that was a natural place to connect the film to the play. The production team on Throne of Blood is a combination of designers with whom I have worked many times, like costume designer Stefani Mar, lighting designer Darren McCroom, and projection designer Maya Ciarrocchi. Oregon Shakespeare Festival designers Christopher Acebo, who designed the scenery, and Todd Barton, who wrote the music and created the sound (which is always a big element in my work), are first time designers with me.

Kurosawa's film Throne of Blood is an adaptation of Shakespeare's stage play Macbeth, set in 16th century feudal Japan. You are now adapting that adaptation, bringing it from the screen to the stage. What elements were you interested in preserving on the stage from Kurosawa's film?
Throne of Blood has an epic scale but it also focuses on the relationship between Washiru and Lady Asaji. We use projections, sound and choreographic movement to evoke the epic aspects and allow the text and the wonderful Oregon Shakespeare Festival ensemble to capture the characters.

What kinds of commentary do you think Throne of Blood offers contemporary American audiences?
As you point out, Kurosawa set Throne of Blood in 16th century Japan. That was the time of the Samurai wars and it was a bloody, brutal era. But while the action is set then, I think the brutality of the 20th century was very much on his mind when he made the film, as it is on mine.