on March 20, 2004
Just before "Ran," Kurosawa got American funding for this movie about a "shadow warrior" who was assigned to impersonate Takeda Shingen should he die. This was to keep the Takeda clan's border secure and prevent enemies (of which Takeda had many) from invading. It is a wonderful film, and has two very strong points: the visuals, and the characters.
The strong visuals should be obvious - an Akira Kurosawa film with no strong visuals is like a Monet painting with poor use of color. The battle scenes are stunning and seem to come out of a nightmare, with rifleman shooting down on soldiers with a bright light flashing behind them. The colored armor of Takeda's men were also nicely picked and, as Kurosawa would later do with "Ran", give their presense a hauntingly beautiful yet horrifying tone. The final scene at the Battle of Nagashino (which was wrongfully nitpicked in Stephen Turnbull's Osprey book of the battle) chooses to show us only the aftermath of the battle, with shots of cavalry charging to the gunners and then cutting to the horrified expressions of those who watch the unfolding massacre of Japan's greatest army. The shot of the fields of dead is some thing that could only have come out of the nightmare of war.
I think the strongest part of the film, though, were the characters. The film has a slew of fascinating characters, from Takeda's generals (each with their own personality) right down to the rifleman who shot Takeda. Even the spies from Oda and Tokugawa interact and talk like real people, and I can't think of any one in this film I easily forget. I especially liked Oda Nobunaga, and I think this film has the best portrayal I've ever seen of him. He can be seen walking out with his army and stopping briefly to listen to a Christian priest give a prayer. There is another part where he rides around on an Arab horse, followed by a scene where he offers Tokugawa Ieyasu a glass of Western wine (poor Tokugawa chokes on it!).
The best character is, of course, the shadow warrior himself. The actor did a wonderful job of playing Takeda and the imposter, and even though being a common thief that nearly quits his job in the beginning, you find yourself growing to like him. The scene where he confesses to the concubines he is an imposter, knowing they'll take it as a joke, and then winks at a general was hilarious! Also, notice in the scene where a retainer describes to Takeda's nephew what the meaning of the clan flag is...the imposter is listening just as intently as the boy is! He also comes out strong in the second-to-last battle sequence, where he watches as men fight and die for a man they strongly admire. The final Kurosawa metaphor at the end (which I won't describe because its a serious spoiler) also gives the whole point of the story. The man tried to undertake a role that was perhaps too big for him, a role only one man could really play.
Overall, I was very impressed with this movie, and I would definately recommend it as viewing for those fans of the master of film himself. I hope soon a DVD will be released of it and I will be able to add it to my growing Akira Kurosawa DVD set. In the meantime, I happily own a video copy for viewing.
on November 7, 2002
This movie is based on three people 1. Takeda Shingen (Born 1521 - Died 1573),2.Oda Nobunaga (Born 1531 - Died 1582),and 3.Tokugawa Ieyasu (Born 1542 - Died 1616). The movie is set in 16th century Japan (Sengoku Era),Oda Nobunaga rules 'Kyoto' (Yamashiro Province) the throne of Japan,'Kyoto' orders Takeda Shingen to march to Kyoto to liberate the throne from the tyrant Oda Nobunaga. Oda Nobunaga who with 3,000 men defeated Imagawa Yoshimoto's 40,000 men in the battle of Okehazama in 1560 is seen as invincible and ronin warriors start to flock to his banner. In 1573,Oda Nobunaga's army grows from 3,000 to 50,000 men with Takeda Shingen's army at 30,000 men,Takeda Shingen's army beats off Oda Nobunaga's army effortlessly with ease on the road to Kyoto.Oda Nobunaga becomes panick stricken and tries to call a peace with the throne in Kyoto,while Oda Nobunaga helplessly watches his armies destroyed one after another. Tokugawa Ieyasu (an allie of Oda Nobunaga) entrenches himself at Hamamatsu Castle,and launches a calvery of 12,000 against Takeda Shingen's 30,000 men at 'Mikatagahara'(December 22,1573). Tokugawa Ieyasu loses 3,000 men,Takeda Shingen loses 300 men that day. Tokugawa Ieyasu's army runs back like whipped dogs back to the safety of Hamamatsu,watching helplessly as Takeda Shingen's army passes on by to the road to Kyoto. By a quirk of fate Takeda Shingen is shot by a sniper and dies later of lead poison,the Takeda clan keeps his death a secret for three years,meanwhile,Oda Nobunaga wonders why Takeda Shingen has laggard his attack not knowing Takeda Shingen died three years ago.
on July 9, 2002
When Kurosawa made this film he was 70 years old and it stands without question as one of his best films. What makes it so powerful is the portrayal of the perfect fusion of the warrior's emotional intensity with intellectual acuity. Both emotion and intellect are focused solely, in this film, on enemy warlords outwitting each other and that focus is so strong that it more than carries the film through its 2 1/2 hour length.
In fact, so strong is the focus that the hapless title character (the shadow warrior)--a common thief who is a perfect lookalike for a mighty warlord, who recruits the thief and is then used by the warlord's retainers as a stand-in after the warlord's death--himself ultimately takes on the psychology of a warrior. And this is true even after he is dismissed from service, after the ordained three years of his deception as the warlord have passed.
Nowhere else in film has the psychology of the warrior been portrayed so sharply, with so much focus, with so much depth--not even in other Kurosawa films, although Seven Samurai is the sine qua non of samurai films. Yet here, in Kagemusha, we see the workings of the minds on both sides, whereas Seven Samurai's power comes from its depiction of how samurais use their intelligence to fight and outwit a completely insubstantial enemy--that is, the bandits, who are never shown up close or presented as anything other than marauding forces.
Kagemusha will never be equalled in its portrayal of the intensity of the warrior spirit. Add to that the astounding vision of a filmmaker who knows more than any other how, where, and why a battle scene's power is derived. As well, there is perfect production design, costuming, and set pieces. There is the obvious attention to detail in capturing the entire world of feudal Japan. All of these together make for a film so riveting, so well done, it is impossible to say anything bad about the film. It just can't be done.
This is a must see for all serious students of film, and for all those who love a great adventure, and for all those who just flat out love movies.
on March 12, 2002
Kurosawa at his best. When i stumbled over this movie, many years ago, I wasn't aware, that Kurosawa was so deep and important. I loved "Seven Samurai" and "Yojimbo" and expected "Kagemusha" to be another cool Samurai flick with action and subtle humor. But this Masterpiece made me have a closer look upon Akira Kurosawa, and I found a whole line of exceptional Films. After experiencing Kagemusha, I wanted to see all the other great films made by Kurosawa, one of the best movie makers ever. Today, I watch the movie once a year and still find things i haven't noticed before, things that only a genius like Kurosawa could have placed into a movie.
The Titel "Kagemusha" means Shadow of the Warrior.
The story takes place in the later 16th century. The Clan Daymios are fighting each other to gain control over the Country. Among them, the legendary Takeda Shingen. One day, he is shot by an enemy sniper and about to die. To prevent the fall of his house, he commands his most loyal man to keep his dead a secret for three years. To make the plan work, a perfect looking Double, a commoner, a thief, is taking over the representative role in public.
From this day on, the thief lives as a shadow, a shadow without a body to follow. More and more, he learn about loyality and respect. He finds joy again in existence and becomes more and more the body, he should be the shadow of. But a shadow is nothing without a body...
All in all, this is not only a great story, a great visual joy, but also a momentum of japanese society and military, and a melancholic view of mans nature.
If you can stand three hours of good movie, this one is for you. I only wish it would be available on DVD...
When does a compilation-box of Kurosawa movies appear on dvd? I just can't wait!
on March 11, 2002
If Akira Kurosawa had not made Ran, Kagemusha would probably have been considered his last great film. However, not only is Ran so incredibly good - one of Kurosawa's best, if not one of the best films of all time - it also deals with the same time period and uses some of the same techniques and actors as Kagemusha, but all in a better and more sophisticated way.
But I digress. Kagemusha is based upon a real story in 16th century Japan about a clan whose leader had a double or shadow warrior ('Kagemusha') and which was wiped out in a battle with another clan. Kurosawa focuses on the double and his attempts at acting as Lord Shingen for three years: both the original Lord and the double are played by Tatsuya Nakadai ('Yojimbo,' 'Ran') in a masterful performance.
Indeed, the double's experience as the Lord is really the heart of the film, not the battles or clan rivalries per se. As in many Kurosawa films, class plays a subtle yet important role: the double was a thief who now must impersonate a Lord, and ironies abound thoughout the film (but especially at the end) about the way the double is in many ways more noble than the original Lord. Besides class there is another subtext to the film, namely the construction of identity itself: in perhaps the best scene of the film, the double has a very scary dream near the end where he is confronted with the original Lord - perfectly embodying the double's doubts about his own identity.
As for the basics of the film, the viewer can hardly be dissapointed. The cinematography was spectacular - the battle scenes of course, but also many beautifully constructed scenes near or on the sea as well. Kurosawa's use of traditional Japanese instruments, especially the drum in the final battle scene is awesome, and the costumes and art direction were outstanding.
The only serious fault with Kagemusha is its length: it could have been cut by a good 20 minutes and not lost anything. Yet that is really the only criticism I have here - all the rest is great. See it.
on August 19, 2001
Kagemusha is a drama, not an action movie. There are no great duels, and the battle scenes, while effective window dressing for the story, are not themselves the focus. This is a human story about the lowest assuming the guise of the highest, and the conflicts this creates both in his co-conspirators and in himself.
Remember the movie "Dave", where Kevin Klein takes the place of a deceased president so that the president's underlings can carry on with their plans? That's basically the plot of Kagemusha, only it is not comedy. In fact, there is a great sadness about this movie, as a thief who assumes the role of a samurai lord learns what it is to hold absolute power and yet to be an imposter. No matter how faithfully he plays his role, in the end he knows he will be discarded or even killed for his efforts. There is an especially touching twist involving his affection for the deceased lord's grandson, who at first is mistrustful but comes to adore the disguised thief. Thus the kagemusha gets his first taste of what fatherly love must feel like, in a splendid castle in which everyone -- even the heir -- must treat him as though he is the real McCoy, all the while knowing that his new life is as transient as a cherry blossom.
Technically, the film is sound, the cinematography is dramatic and colorful, but there are plenty of draaaaaaaawn out scenes, so typical of Kurosawa, that may have the less patient viewer reaching for the remote's fast-forward button. In particular the ending, where all the carnage of a climactic, devastating battle takes place off-screen while we watch the thief's face react is almost comical, like watching a mime at the circus, which is FAR from its intent.
Still, this movie is accessible, a little moving and definitely worth a look.
on June 27, 2001
Produced in 1980 with the finacial suport of George Lucas and Francis Ford Copolla, Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha is in all aspects an epic. It was a prelude to Kurosawa's 1985 masterpiece Ran with his political and military struggles and existencial conflicts. The historical background is the feudal Japan during the "Sengoku Jidai" or "Age of war" that lasted to the begining of the XVII century. An insignificant thief is spared from death by Shingen, the warlord of the powerful Takeda clan. Because of the amazing resemblence with him, Shingen turns the thief into his "kagemusha" or "shadow warrior" training him to take his place in case of death for no less than three years. When Shingen is finally killed, the thief, under the vigilance of Nobukado, Shingen's brother and the higher retainers of the clan is forced to fool not only the enemies of the Takeda but also the whole rest of the clan. As the story progresses we see the double grow and mature, gaining corage to accomplish his role as best he can. There's also the relation between the double and Nobukado not just puppet and puppeteer but something more deep. The mask finally breaks and the death of Shingen is discovered by his enemies that soon take arms against the Takeda. From there on the fate of the clan will be decided in bloody final battle. The soundtrack spetacularly give the movie an epic,and heroic feel this being seen on the final scene. Kurosawa showed in this film, despite the slow ritm and the lack of great battles, all his talent as a master of his art.
on April 14, 2001
William Goldman, and American screenwriter, admonished aspiring screenwriters to begin scenes as close to end as possible. This is the sort of pacing that audiences--American audiences, at least--are accustomed to. Akira Kurosawa's "Kagemusha" is quite a different sort of movie than would ever be produced by the American or even the European mainstream movie industry.. Its scenes are long and talky, with periods of silence, and still cameras. The scenery, make-up, and mannerisms of the actors are exaggerated and often melodramatic, like you would find in formal Japanese cinema. Anyone seeing this movie expecting a medieval action flick along the lines of, say, "Exalibur," is very likely to be disappointed.
Which would be a shame. This is a magnificent movie. The photography and set design alone are breathtaking. This is more a historical piece than a character study--the characters remain, for the most part, two-dimensional. The focus remains tightly on the strategies and deceptions involved in keeping together the Shingen Takeda clan when their leader has died.
Scenes are often long and patiently filmed. In one quietly dramatic scene, we see two lines of cavalry come galloping over an incline from a great distance. The thunder of the racing horses builds, and the lines converge before us. In this single shot, not much else happens, but the composition and sound create a powerful effect. This movie is filled with subtle, magnificent moments like this.
The battle scenes--well, no one can beat Kurosawa here. The final scene depicts devestation and defeat with surprisingly little gore, yet is no less powerful (and, arguably, more) than, say, the graphically violent scenes in "Saving Private Ryan."
This is a must-see for any movie buff.
on May 2, 1999
QUESTION for starters: where can one find the ORIGINAL version of Kagemusha? (if only for the edited scenes with Takeshi Shimura!)
Kagemusha is simply breathtaking. The opening sequence challenges any doubts and skepticism about the subtle yet powerful capabilities for theatre conventions in filmmaking - it is a fascinating long take/meeting of minds and gigantic themes (!) the movie later develops.
Much has been said about Nakadai's melodramatic performance in this film, but for me it was only fitting with Kagemusha's ornate and formal compositions. This is not a Kurosawa-epic in the tradition for realism in the likes of Seven Samurai. Artifice reigns supreme here. Kurosawa opted for this with the most awe-inspiring indulgence in form, contrasting it with a most chilling (mauve) theme about reality-vs-illusion.
At the end I can't help but miss the super-human yet human-like, life-affirming yet wickedly contradictory heroes portrayed by Mifune in earlier-Kurosawa, but it's a different kind of pleasure and learning experience with Kagemusha. A difference of evolving style that justifies why Kurosawa was truly a sensei of cinematic arts.
on April 9, 1999
This was the first of Akira's movies that i have seen...iwas taken to see it by my mother who recognized my critical film watching nature as a youngster. I was thirteen when i saw this, and never stopped searching for more of Kurosawa's movies, and have seen many (and include several as the best movies of all time) but you know what they say about "the first time"...i can't really say too much about the film that already has been told, but i will say this...as a thirteen year old boy i felt kind of funny weaping openly at the fact that i was witnessing sheer genious...not at the scenes, the beauty of the film, or the plot (although when the shadow warrior twirled his mustache, i did tear up along with the servents!) but at the fact that film making could transcend the mediocre nonsense that we hollywood mass consumers have come to accept as good or even great cimema...i only felt that grateful for a film-makers achievements for two other movies; the seven samuri and the recent masterpeice "life is beautiful"....