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Kagemusha (1980)

Criterion comes up with the best posters...
Criterion comes up with the best posters...

Genre: Period War Drama (Japan)

Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai (RanKill!), Tsutomu Yamazaki (Red Beard)

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa (Drunken AngelIkiru)

Overview: Apetty thief is the perfect body double for a Japanese Lord. When that Lord is fatally wounded, the thief is asked to keep up the facade and replace the the Lord for three years.

One definition of the word epic is: "extending beyond the usual or ordinary especially in size or scope". Well, kiddies, epic grandeur has in Kagemusha a noble champion indeed.

Kagemusha, being mostly a medieval Japanese war film, is a cinematographic treasure. With large-scale, highly historically accurate feudal warfare and period costumes, not to mention a final scene with 5000 extras, Kagemusha is one of the few films that transcends the era it was made in, leaving virtually no clues that this was made in 1980. However Kurosawa put special care in making a visual spectacle of more than simply the battle sequences. One scene places Kagemusha in a nightmare. The deceased Lord he imitates comes at him, donned in full armour, a sickly shade of pasty post-mortem green while Kagemusha attempts his escape though the cloudscape around him.

I know it is difficult. I was for a long time the lord's double. It was torture. It is not easy to suppress yourself to become another. Often I wanted to be myself and free. But now I think this was selfish of me. The shadow of a man can never desert that man. I was my brother's shadow. Now that I have lost him, it is as though I am nothing...The shadow of a man can never stand up and walk on its own. -Nobukado Takeda

Were it not for efforts of Kurosawa's filmmaking fans, Kagemusha may well have never been completed. Toho Studios, the Studio Kurosawa did most of his work with, couldn't quite afford to finish the film. Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas were able to convince 20th Century Fox to pay for its completion in exchange for international distribution rights.

Shingen Takeda: Even with this resemblance, Nobukado, he is so wicked as to be sentenced to crucifixion. How could this scoundrel be my double?
Kagemusha: I only stole a few coins. A petty thief. But you've killed hundreds and robbed whole domains. Who is wicked, you or I?

A tale of feudal war and internal strife is compelling enough, and with such films as Ran and Throne of BloodThe Emperor has certainly proven himself with such tales, yet Kagumusha is different in that our main character is a fake, a man who constantly doubts his place, who's personal war with himself and his bestowed station is one of the biggest driving factors of the tale. Self-doubt is a theme more prevalent than politics and war. Kagemusha's own inner-turmoil may lead Lords and generals to turn against him. Should Kagemusha attain a perfect state of inner peace, those near to him still know he's not their leader. Kagemusha, in being nothing more than the shadow of a greater man, brings an original twist to the mistaken identity plot.

It's an epic war film more personal than we're used to.

If only my nightmares were this awesome
If only MY nightmares were this awesome

Performance: 9 Cinematography: 10 Script: 8 Plot: 8 Mood: 8

Overall Rating: 86% (Casts a Worthy Shadow)

It's interesting to think that after 1965, Japan could change so much that its arguably best-known director is reduced to asking people outside of his country to help him produce it. Luckily, the world was up for it and we reaped the benefits.

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