Kagemusha (1980) Poster



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When Toho Studios couldn't fulfill the budget demands of the film, American film directors George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola stepped in to help Akira Kurosawa. Kurosawa was visiting San Francisco in July 1978 and met Lucas and Coppola. The two convinced studio 20th Century-Fox, still riding high after the success of Lucas' Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977), to advance-finance the film and fund the remaining portion of the budget. This was done in exchange for the film's world-wide distribution rights to the picture outside of Japan. This was the first time that distribution rights to a Japanese film had been pre-sold to a major Hollywood studio.
Much of the film recounts actual historical events, including Shingen's death and the two-year secret, and the climactic Battle of Nagashino in 1575. Those scenes are also modeled closely on detailed accounts of the battle.
The battle scenes utilized hundreds of horses and thousands of extras. According to George Lucas, the picture had five thousand extras in the film's battle sequence finale which depicted the Battle of Nagashino of the year 1575.
This movie set in during the Sengoku Period of Japanese history. Also known as the Warring States Period, it went from around the mid 16th Century (1500s) to the beginning of the 17th Century (1600s). It was a period of constant political turmoil, social rebellion and military war. It eventually resulted in the creation of the Tokugawa Shogunate which unified regional politics and gave political stability to Japan.
Final feature film of actor Takashi Shimura who was one of director Akira Kurosawa's favorite actors who used him regularly. This movie represents their final ever collaboration. Kurosawa wrote the part of Gyobu Taguchi in this film for him. The scene in which Shimura appears was cut from the international subtitled version of the film but has been put back in the modern subtitled DVD release. Shimura passed away in 1982.
Two hundred specially trained horses were flown in from the US. Many of the riders were female members "of various equestrian organizations" whom Kurosawa described as being "more daring than most men."
Real 16th Century costumes and armor were loaned from Japanese museums for actors to wear in the film. These were reportedly objects that were important national treasures of Japan.
Shooting for the film lasted nine months. Almost two months of this were spent filming the final battle scenes on the Yuhara Plain in Hokkaido.
George Lucas assisted Akira Kurosawa with this film in a number of capacities. Lucas' big-budget box-office success Star Wars: Episode IV - A New Hope (1977) had been inspired by a number of Kurosawa's early films. These were Sanjuro (Sanjuro (1962)), Yojimbo (Yojimbo (1961)) and The Hidden Fortress (The Hidden Fortress (1958)).
Kagemusha (1980) was the first Japanese film released worldwide by a major American studio.
Publicity for this picture at the time of release declared that the film was the most expensive film ever made in Japan. At the time of the movie, the picture had the biggest ever budget in Japanese film history. Director Akira Kurosawa though had a lot of trouble raising the finance for this film.
"Kagemusha" literally translates into English as "double" or "shadow warrior". The movie's title in English speaking territories was subtitled "The Shadow Warrior".
Filming locations used for this picture ranged the whole length of Japan.
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To secure part of the funding required to make the film, Akira Kurosawa teamed up with the Suntory Whiskey company to create advertisements for the drink on the set of "Kagemusha". These advertisements are included as extras on the Criterion edition DVD.
Having assisted Akira Kurosawa by raising finance for the film, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola acted as executive producers on the picture and supervised the preparation of the English subtitled prints. Publicity for the picture maintained that the sub-titling on the movie was some of the clearest and easiest-to-read subtitling ever seen on a foreign language film. Moreover, the two also actively promoted the picture in the western world and English speaking territories.
Actor Tatsuya Nakadai played two roles in this film: Kagemusha and Shingen Takeda. Nakadai actually played both the character and the character who impersonates his character. The warlord whom the Kagemusha impersonates was based on feudal Japan daimyo (territorial lord) Takeda Shingen.
Shintarô Katsu was originally slated to play the lead role but he was dismissed by Akira Kurosawa after Katsu came to a rehearsal with a video camera and said he wanted to document the experience for an acting class he was teaching. Katsu was replaced by Kurosawa acting regular Tatsuya Nakadai.
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Many popular American directors and actors flew to Japan to attend the premiere at the Yurakuza Theater in Tokyo on 27th April 1980. They included Francis Ford Coppola, William Wyler, Irvin Kershner, Arthur Penn, Sam Peckinpah, Terence Young, James Coburn and Peter Fonda.
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During principal photography director Akira Kurosawa read the novel of War and Peace (1956) by Leo Tolstoy.
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In Region 1 territories, this was Akira Kurosawa's first film to be released on the Blu-Ray Disc format.
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Director Trademark 

Akira Kurosawa: [weather] There's a rainy scene just before the final battle of the film, not to mention the rainbow part which is one of the most memorable parts of the film.


The trivia item below may give away important plot points.

No females appear in this film until the 73rd minute.
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