Kagemusha (The Criterion Collection) [Blu-ray]
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The 1970s were difficult years for the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Following the box-office failure of his 1970 film Dodes'ka-den and an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Kurosawa was unable to find financial backing in Japan, and he made his acclaimed 1975 film Dersu Uzala in Siberia with Russian financing. With only partial Japanese backing for his epic project Kagemusha, the 70-year-old master then found American support from George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, who served as coexecutive producers (through 20th Century Fox) for this magnificent 1980 production--to that date the most expensive film in Japanese history. Set in the late 16th century, Kagemusha centers on the Takeda clan, one of three warlord clans battling for control of Japan at the end of the feudal period. When Lord Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai), head of the Takeda clan, is mortally wounded in battle and near death, he orders that his death be kept secret and that his "kagemusha"--or "shadow warrior"--take his place for a period of three years to prevent clan disruption and enemy takeover. The identical double is a petty thief (also played by Nakadai) spared from execution due to his uncanny resemblance to Lord Shingen--but his true identity cannot prevent the tides of fate from rising over the Takeda clan in a climactic scene of battlefield devastation. Through stunning visuals and meticulous attention to every physical and stylistic detail, Kurosawa made a film that restored his status as Japan's greatest filmmaker, and the success of Kagemusha enabled the director to make his 1985 masterpiece, Ran. --Jeff Shannon --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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.Read more ›
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.
Most recent customer reviews
Even though visually stunning and has a very interesting plot, somehow I can't bring myself to "imagine" a massive final battle scene where the opposing armies are shown to... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Dr. Kai Wang
This double-dvd shows you the genious and passion of Akira Kirasawa on Disc 2. I suggest viewing the second disc before watching the movie. Read morePublished on March 23 2010 by jamesbonds
Just before "Ran," Kurosawa got American funding for this movie about a "shadow warrior" who was assigned to impersonate Takeda Shingen should he die. Read morePublished on March 20 2004 by TrezKu13
Regardless of its length and broad assumption that viewers will have some understanding of sixteenth century Japanese feudal systems, this remains Kurosawa's best film - better,... Read morePublished on Nov. 29 2002
for the DVD. Great movie but poor VHS quality. Very grainy. Hope the DVD cleans it up.Published on Sept. 21 2002 by P. Williams
Kurosawa's best, shame about the vid quality/length. check out Ran and Throne of Blood, also pretty good. Read morePublished on April 18 2002 by joe gideon
Kurosawa at his best. When i stumbled over this movie, many years ago, I wasn't aware, that Kurosawa was so deep and important. Read morePublished on March 12 2002
If Akira Kurosawa had not made Ran, Kagemusha would probably have been considered his last great film. Read morePublished on March 11 2002
Kagemusha is another entry in Kurosawa's decades-long string of Samurai movies and is replet with rank-n-file anti-war themes: empires are fleeting, stubborn pride proves costly,... Read morePublished on June 28 2001 by Noctem
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