Following World War II, a retired professor approaching his autumn years finds his quality of life drastically reduced in war-torn Tokyo. Denying despair, he pursues writing and celebrates his birthday with his adoring students.
When a powerful warlord in medieval Japan dies, a poor thief recruited to impersonate him finds difficulty living up to his role and clashes with the spirit of the warlord during turbulent times in the kingdom. Written by
Keith Loh <email@example.com>
Another spectacular samurai film from Akira Kurosawa.
Kagemusha is one of Kurosawa's later films, in which he deals with such themes as vicarious existence and other personal illusions. One of the main ideas in the film is that if you deny your own personality as an individual and take on the superficial appearance of someone else, you may experience gain and even happiness, but eventually you are sure to be forced back to being yourself again, and you may find yourself worse off than before. There is a piece of dialogue in the film that very clearly backs this up. The late Lord Shingen's brother, in an emotional scene, says, `I was once in my brother's shadow. Now that I have lost him, it is as though I am nothing.'
Kagemusha is the story of three different warlords who are all fighting for sole leadership of Japan. This premise is the foundation for the plot of the film. When one of the warlords is killed by a sniper, his clan tries to keep his death a secret so they can avoid invasion and defeat at the hands of the other two clans. In order to do that, they make use of a petty thief who bears a striking resemblance to the late Lord Shingen, and he is put in the place of Shingen so that his death is not known by the other clans. At first, this thief (known as Kagemusha), revels in the luxury and comfort of being in the place of Lord Shingen. He is thrilled to be the king, and he literally becomes the leader of the clan simply because he bore such a strong resemblance to the previous leader. As his true identity gradually becomes clear, the other clans begin to investigate his death, suspecting that he is not really dead. Kagemusha's true identity is soon discovered (although in the story, he remained in Lord Shingen's place for over two years), and he is coarsely cast out of the castle and into exile. Kagemusha is left to helplessly witness the subsequent overthrow and destruction of the clan, over which he understandably seems to have developed some paternal feelings. He must now live his life with the feeling that he failed all of those people and was responsible for the destruction of their clan.
When we are first introduced to Kagemusha (in the opening scene of the film), we find out immediately that he is a petty thief, as Lord Shingen and one of his advisors are discussing (in his presence) his striking and almost disturbing resemblance to Shingen. For the vast majority of the rest of the film, Kagemusha is seen in the place of Lord Shingen, and he is ironically more likeable than the late Lord. He is more humorous, he treats his mistresses better, he even gets along with the Lord's own immediate family (especially Takemaru) better than Shingen did, so the audience is able to develop a very positive attitude toward him. However, it is always subtly known that he is still the thief that was picked off the streets early in the film, and this is the life to which he eventually is forced to return.
There is a fairly significant example of irony in Kagemusha, because of the events following Kagemusha's inauguration' into the place of Lord Shingen. He is a petty thief in real life, and he is put into the place of Shingen for no other reason than that he looks so much like him, yet he turns out to be a very competent leader. His skill in making decisions led to the victory of many battles; it even seemed that he was a more capable leader in this way than the rest of Shingen's council. It is ironic that a thief could be picked off the streets and put into a position of power, and lead as skillfully as Kagemusha does.
Kurosawa utilizes extensive long takes, employing a film technique that seems to draw more attention to the story itself rather than the cinematography. As is almost a Kurosawa trademark, there are many shots in the film where the camera as well as the characters on screen are largely motionless, but they are engaged in significant an often heated conversation. Keeping in mind that Kagemusha is at least partly a war film, this particular technique suggests that Kurosawa wanted the audience to have a deep understanding of the story behind the film, and he used this muted technique to make sure that people were not distracted during important scenes. Kurosawa uses this realistic filmmaking technique to allow the characters tell the story, rather than to fill the movie with fancy camera tricks. Very unobtrusive, with incredible results.
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