In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other...and him.
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>
In the final battle there are at least 100 riflemen shown firing their matchlock rifles in volleys. The smoke generated by the matchlocks almost immediately dissipates. This indicates a more modern gunpowder was used in the matchlocks as the historically correct black powder load would blanket the battlefield with thick smoke after a handful of volleys. See more »
World's Best Movie Ever--Especially in Cultural Context (SPOILER ALERT)
This is the best movie I have ever seen. In any language from any culture. I thought so when I first saw it thirty years ago and I still think so now, despite not being able to see it in its original mind- blowing wide-screen form. It is not just one of the most visually beautiful films ever done. The positive reviews are all accurate, but many focus too much on Kurosawa in general rather than on the particular theme of this film, which is closely tied to Japanese history and ideals, and which unites all the specific beauties of text and technique. This is not simply a film about historical belatedness (a lament that the ancient idea of heroes is now exposed by the modern world to be a hollow fantasy, as Ebert and other suggest), or the Shakespearian tragedy of inevitable discrepancy between individual and historical role, as in Henry V), although the film includes something of these elements. It is more--a beautiful elegy to a positive feudal ideal of leadership that goes beyond individual power to sacrifice for country--embodied in the figure of Takeda Shingin. Great tactician, unsurpassed "rider" of horses and women, inspiring and fearsome military leader, he is also a student of the Sutras and a man who "stepped right into people's hearts," as one of his aides says. The opening scene shows he listens to criticism and has a sense of irony about himself; when the thief who is to play his "double" accuses him of being a murderer, he agrees but says he will do anything to unite the country in order to prevent endless war and bloodshed. The same actor plays the lord and his double with incredible depth and subtlety. Shingin is killed (by a gun) early in the movie; as he is dying he tells his generals not to let anyone know he's dead for three years--to let the thief replace him, so as to give the clan time to prepare for confrontation with the western- armed enemy--and, given that his clan is not armed with western firearms, not to move out of its own territory. The double or "shadow warrior" who takes his place begins to identify with the role and finds out that literal crucifixion (for theft) would have been nothing compared to the loneliness at the top where the weight of the world is on the leader's shoulders. Every moment of his existence requires that he sacrifice everything personal to a role that no one can ever fill perfectly, and that is now bereft of the one man who came closest to doing so. The kagemusha doesn't have Shingin's "riding ability" or his wounds or the depth of self-understanding to fill the lord's role and, when he cockily believes he can do so for a moment, he is discovered and thrown out. Neither he, nor any modern man trying to live an identity larger than himself--including the artist who, like the kagemusha, is creating a shadow of the ideal--can replace this feudal ideal which was superseded (literally, massacred at the end) starting over 400 years ago by Christianized and technologized decadence, represented by Nobunaga and Ieyasu. The kagemusha learns slowly, as we do, what the ABSENCE of the irreplaceable Shingin means to his people and symbolically to Japan. Many scenes build up as if to a great battle or political confrontation, and the generals keep the show going, but it is all hollow--the leader is gone. Shingin's ambitious and over-eager son then leads the Takeda clan out of the mountains--to a destruction by western technology reminiscent of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (especially since the historical battle was at a place named Nagashino). The point of the film is to show a lost ideal of the past which can never be regained and without which everything afterward is a shadow, like the kagemusha ("shadow warrior"). The double (like the artist) seems possessed with Shingen's ghost in the last scenes as he watches in horror while the son, in a self-centered Oedipal frenzy, destroys the flower of his people by moving beyond the legitimate limits of his territory and his scope, and the double can only throw a futile spear at the modern weaponry which destroys him. But a shadow identity from a meaningful past is better than none at all (Kurosawa shores these fragments against modern ruins at least as well as T.S. Eliot in "The Waste Land").
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