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I am a fan of Kurosawa and have seen many of his films many times.
There is a sweep and an ache to Kagemusha that is genuine and has
remained in my heart's memory. Unlike Ran, it is not Shakespearean.
Unlike Seven Samurai, my favorite all-time film and I believe the best
film ever made, it is not a western.
Although epic, it is about a sweet and rueful soul swallowed by karma and history. It is redemptive without overt sentiment, and the lead performance by Tatsuya Nakadai is nuanced and unforgettable.
I will always remember this film, not for its complexity or savagery, but for the simplest moments between Lord and subject, between the highest self and the lowest self, and most particularly, the very real pain of a man caught in the vise of his own life and death.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
"Kagemusha" is one of those films which wasn't intended as a great
success, yet it became that, winning the Golden Palm and giving
Kurosawa back his much needed acclaim in Japan and re-establishing his
reputation as the giant of Asian cinema.
Although Kurosawa himself thought of this film as a mere dress rehearsal,a preparation for "Ran", "Kagemusha" carries its own distinctive essence which makes it a work in the same category as its successor.The story deals around one of the greatest feudal lords and generals in Japan's history, Takeda Shingen, showing his unexpected and untimely demise. Although Shingen is the most powerful figure here, he is used as a monument around which everything revolves and not as the principal hero.
This film is full of sad and tragic moments, starting with Shingen's untimely death and culminating with the rebuking of his impersonator, Kagemusha. Nakadai plays the dual roles wonderfully. He is so emotionally involved in his part as Kagemusha that it seems almost uncanny. Thus we see why Kurosawa has chosen him as Mifune's successor. The other actors are also splendid and specially young Daisuke Ryu makes a startling appearance as Shingen's arch rival Oda Nobunaga.
The ending is very hard to watch, both the scene where Kagemusha is thrown out in the rain and the last scene which illustrates the death of the Takeda clan. What makes this film a pleasure to watch is the incredible cinematography and photography, specially in the incredible dream sequence where the ghost of Shingen chases Kagemusha through red clouds, as well as the hauntingly beautiful music and marvelous performances.
All in all, this is a great film that will grow on you the more you watch it. Although "Ran" is more spectacular and gripping, "Kagemusha" is more compelling because of its epic nature. 9/10
Akira Kurosawa is certainly one of the most important directors who ever
lived. Most of his most famous films were made in the 50s and 60s. Rashomon,
Ikiru, Yojimbo, and The Seven Samurai may be the four most famous films he
made, and they were all in black and white. That format was wonderful. His
films had a definitive look in that era.
I would like to suggest, though, that he was the single best director of the color image who has existed thus far (whose work I am familiar with). I have only seen two of his color films (I don't even know how many he made), this film and Ran, but his sense of color in these two films is exquisite. I had to pause it several times during Kagemusha just to stare at the beautiful composition.
I personally think that Kurosawa's talents rested mainly in the technical aspects of his films rather than the content (and I'm sure many people would argue against me here). So as for the film itself, I'd give it a 9/10 for two reasons. I was only emotionally involved during small sections of the film (the end was particularly powerful), and the story was somewhat difficult to follow (I was confused during Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai, too). I prefer Ran to this film (and to all the other films of his I've seen, which include Rashomon, The Seven Samurai, and Yojimbo). Still, Kagemusha is very good.
I saw the director's cut about twenty years after I first saw the film.
Kagemusha is as magnificent now as before, but what has changed in the
meantime is my appreciation of the meaning of Shakespeare's plays. The
history plays and most of the tragedies were about the political dilemmas
facing the new Tudor state. The Elizabethan audience sat on the edge of
their seats waiting to see how political order might be restored once it had
been set in disarray. The Wars of the Roses sequence culminates in the late
political tragedies -- Julius Caesar, Macbeth, Hamlet and Lear. The question
is always the same. How is an impersonal modern state possible when its
leader is a person, the King? Or is rule by office compatible with the human
flaws of the person occupying it? Shakespeare was the client of a
conservative aristocratic faction, no rabble-rousing democrat he. But he
went so deep into this political question in the course of writing all his
plays that he dug deeper into this core issue of modern politics than anyone
Kurosawa approaches the same question through the notion of a double,"the shadow of a warrior", Kagemusha. Here the contrast between the office of the political leader and its personal incumbent is brought vividly to life in so many ways. The period is the Japanese equivalent of England's War of the Roses, the transition from feudalism to the beginnings of the modern state. The losing side in this case is the one that tries to resolve the contradiction of personality and office by a subterfuge, a thief masquerading as a lord. The winning side and founder of the Japanese state is the Tokugawa clan. The climactic battle symbolises the passage from traditional to modern warfare, as the horses of the losers are mown down by fusillades of gunfire. The credits run as the corpse of the double crosses a submerged flag whose abstract symbolism shows us which aspects of feudalism the modern state will borrow. Personality is vanquished.
The aesthetic vision animating this movie is incredible. There is so much to look at and admire, perhaps interpret. One striking feature for me was the persistent strong breeze ripping through the banners, a symbol of the winds of change running through 16th century Japan, contemporary to Shakespeare's period. Because this drama was made by and for the modern cinema, in many ways Kurosawa's masterpiece is better than Shakespeare.
This film is one of Kurosawa's masterpieces and gives an profound insight in the pre-Tokugawa period of Japan. Especially remarkable is the very elaborated atmosphere of this film to which contribute the pure and simple dialogues and the use of very well-made sceneries. Kurosawa's favorite actor Tatsuya Nakadai is here at his best. Although the atmosphere is very elaborated and almost perfectly historic; tension of the viewer is heightened by the simplicity of the scenes. Kurosawa leaves certain parts to the viewer's imagination rather than showing it. The movie is highly philosophical as well as emotionally touching and presents the soul of the way of samurai and Japan's old samurai system much better and more serious than countless cheap- and bad-made martial arts movies about samurai. This is a warning to all who expect fast martial arts action and blood covered katana. This film is a Kurosawa-style mixture between opulent costume- drama, a philosophic and tragic story and the sensitivity only Kurosawa has displaying Japan's traditional way-of-life.
What happens to the doppelganger when the original dies? Does he flitter
out of existence or does he find his own. Kagemusha (shadow warrior in
Japanese) is the story of a thief who is to be hanged, but is saved by a
warlord's brother, Katsuyori Takeda, because of a peculiar resemblance to
the king Shingen Takeda. Tatsuya Nakadai brilliantly plays both roles of
Shingen and the thief. The thief is trained to fill in as Shingen's double,
a position previously played by his brother Katsuyori. Shingen receives a
mortal wound during a siege and the Takeda Clan retreat. His dying wish is
that he wants his death not to be known for at least three years. Kagemusha
eventually acquiesces to the role of not just doubling for the king, but
being a figurehead twenty-four hours a day.
The intimate circle of Shingen's family and guard knows about the double. They advise him about how to be like Shingen. He plays the part well. Shingen's son Nobukado, who knows that he is the double, is convinced that his father did this to spite him. Nobukado was passed over as king and that position was granted to Shingen's grandson and Nobukado's son Takemaru as soon as he reaches of mature age. Later in the film, we realize that Shingen did this because Nobukado is too aggressive and is not leader material, not to spite him. The backing of Kagemusha helped Nobukado's one great military victory. Nobukado would forever be in Shingen's shadow.
The relationships between the thief and the Lord's men make this a fascinating film. There is a rich tapestry of multidimensional characters. To some critics the action was too slow. It was not as fast paced as The Seven Samurai or Yojimbo. I think it is a mature film from a maturing director who would go on to direct another of my favorite films Ran. This film was nominated for two academy awards and would co-win the grand prize at the Cannes Film Festival. The juxtaposition between the titanic and minute is a favorite concept of Kurosawa. Stolid men have tragic faults. Beggars can be kings.
Kurosawa is one of the world's most famous directors. Yet in the 1980's, he did not get much respect from his home country Japan. He had not had released a film since 1975 -- the beautiful and brilliant Dersu Uzala and he was reportedly suicidal. This film would not have been made if it were not for George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola whom helped finance this film. Lucas has always been a big fan of Kurosawa. Star Wars was partially influenced by Kurosawa's film The Hidden Fortress. I am a big fan of Kurosawa too. His films always have the most beautiful cinematography, intricate plots and grand characters. Kagemusha is no exception.
I have seen nearly all of Akira Kurosawa's films, so my opinion
shouldn't be completely ignored. Although I am in the distinct
minority, I didn't particularly like KAGEMUSHA. Yes, it was big and
beautiful and had great scope but it was also emotionally sterile and
bore little resemblance to Kurosawa's earlier, more famous works. The
same, by the way, can be said about RAN. Both films had relatively HUGE
budgets but the dialog and connectedness between the characters was
lacking. As a result, I felt pretty bored when I watched both of
them--especially this film.
So, if you compare these two movies with THE 7 SAMURAI or YOJIMBO, for example, they seem VERY different. These older films, though not filmed in color, had a greater sense of humanity about them--great importance was placed on the INTERRELATIONSHIPS between the characters AND the camera work was very different, with more closeups and a more intimate feel. So, while RAN and KAGEMUSHA were pretty to look at, I felt much more detached from them and cared much less about the characters. I really think the problem with these two movies, and the reason I like them less than the average Kurosawa film, was that the big budget in these later films actually HURT them, as too much emphasis was placed on effects and dialog was purely secondary.
So, in summary, I am the odd-ball that didn't love this film. You will probably disagree and might be tempted to mark my review as "not helpful", as the reviews on IMDb are generally glowing. But having seen many Japanese films, I can't help but feel there are better films out there waiting to be seen. Most any other Kurosawa film, and films by other great directors (such as THE SAMURAI TRILOGY, the films of Yasujiro Ozu) are more appealing to me. I think the popularity of this film is in part due to its having been seen in theaters by more Westerners than any other of Kurosawa's films--SEEK OUT HIS EARLIER AND MID-CAREER FILMS--they are better and far more emotionally involving.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
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
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.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
In 1572, there is a civil war in Japan, and three powerful clans,
leaded by the lords Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai), Nobunaga Oda
(Daisuke Ryu) and Ieyasu Tokugawa (Masayuki Yui), dispute the conquest
of Kyoto. When Shingen is mortally wounded, the Takeda clan hides the
incident and uses a poor thief to be the double of the strategist
Shingen and keep the respect of their enemies. Along the years,
Kagemusha incorporates the spirit of the warrior of the dead warlord.
"Kagemusha" is another awesome movie of Master Akira Kurosawa, where the colors are very impressive. I can highlight, for example, the nightmare of Kagemusha on the clouds; the rainbow on the beach; the flags and costumes of the warriors in the battlefield. Therefore, the cinematography of this film is spectacular, especially because most of Kurosawa's movies are in black & white. The performance of Tatsuya Nakadai is stunning and very touching in the final scenes, when he is expelled like a street-dog from the clan, and in the fields during the final battle. The strategies of the war used in this movie, with the wind, the forest, the flame and the mountain, recall parts of the famous Sun Tzu book. I like also to see the medieval feudalistic Japanese culture, totally different from the Western standards, and is also a great attraction for me. My vote is nine.
Title (Brazil): "Kagemusha A Sombra do Samurai" ("Kagemusha The Shadow of the Samurai")
This is a great epic of war and a film of great emotion. At the center is a man who has nothing. He is thrust into a world he didn't create. He is a petty thief and really would like to just get on with his life. What he also has is great loyalty to his now deceased lord, and despite his great concern for his ability to carry it off, he agrees to the position. He has to know that at some point this will all come crashing down. The Samurai code makes it so that he has few options. He runs the war the best he can but occasionally falls victim to who he is. Even with advisers watching his every move, he becomes so much a part of the entire picture that he is left to destroy himself, and, in the process, the clan that he represents. The battle scenes are remindful of the other huge films like "Ran" and "Throne of Blood." They sweep across the screen with the flag carrying horsemen and the infantry fighting until there is nothing left but total carnage. Because of the complexity of the story and the wonderful acting, I would put this at or near the top of my Kurosawa list.
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