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Another Brilliant Epic
Hitchcoc23 September 2009
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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A Long, But Fantastic, Film.
JohnWelles27 April 2009
Akira Kurosawa's "Kagemusha" (1980) is one of those tremendously long films that somehow never drags. The plot is about a petty thief who is about to be crucified but is saved by a Japanese warlord called Lord Shingen because of his amazing resemblance to him and is used as a double. When the Lord is killed, and because of a plan laid by Shingen before he died, the so-call "Shadow Warrior" must impersonate the Lord for three years. Aided by this clever plot, Kurosawa shows us Japanese court ritual, with help by a brilliant performance by Tatsuya Nakadai, gives a fascinating picture of fifteenth century Japan. This a fabulous movie, with a particularly moving ending, that shows just how great Akira Kurosawa is.
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A great film that grows on you
ereinion8 October 2004
Warning: 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
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A Great Mature Kurosawa Film
george-b15 November 2004
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.
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A grand spectacle of samurais and shoguns.
SamuraiNixon12 September 1999
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.
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One of the best serious samurai-movies
dottorepaulo24 November 2000
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.
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Another spectacular samurai film from Akira Kurosawa.
Anonymous_Maxine7 August 2001
Warning: 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 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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A Colorful Art of the War
claudio_carvalho27 September 2005
Warning: 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")
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Better than Shakespeare
hart_keith26 July 2002
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 since.

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.
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My God, Look at Those Colors!
zetes30 May 2000
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.
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World's Best Movie Ever--Especially in Cultural Context (SPOILER ALERT)
riolama27 November 2011
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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incredibly BIG and beautiful but also very sterile
MartinHafer16 February 2006
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.
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A mostly great effort by Kurosawa
sboom200916 July 2011
Warning: Spoilers
Another samurai epic by the master of the genre Akira Kurosawa; which, I find to be a mostly fulfilling attempt.The film follows the life of a peasant thief named Kagemusha who happens to look like the warlord of the Takeda clan Shingen. He is found by Shingen's brother Nobukado where he is trained to be Shingen's third body double in case of emergency. Of course this fate is realized when a assassin's sniper rifle finds Lord Shingen during a battle. Shengin remains alive for a while to let his men know that he wanted to be alive three more years for it was his goal to capture Kyoto and if he should die he would want it kept a secret so his clan would not go into disarray. Unfortunately Shingen passes from his wound and it is decided by the his cabinet that Kagemusha must pretend to be Shingen for three years (this secret is even kept from Shingen's family).

It is important for his double to keep his persona for if his enemies were to suspect lord Shigen dead then they wouldn't have fear of attacking, but knowing that he may still be living made them second guess their attacks and kept the clan safe. It also helped to protect the clan from itself for the warlords replacement was a mere boy and a son who is blanketed by his father's shadow who is trying desperately to find himself(which is a major theme of the film).

Their are many themes in this film of which to talk about but the most important one is finding ones self. Shingen's son Katsuyori is very lost even before his father's death. His son is the next in line to become leader of the clan ,which; brings him much embarrassment for he has felt his father was not fairing of him making him want to distance himself from Shingen's lore. These feelings later in the film become cataclysmic as certain discoveries are made. Kagemusha himself is lost between loyalty to his master and still knowing himself ,which; he is not able to be under the circumstances. There is a point in the film when he takes the persona too far it has dire consequences, but it puts things back in perspective for him where he finds what he truly loves.

The first two hours of the film are phenomenal, but the battle sequences once began got a little confusing at times especially a scene at night where you're not sure who the friends or enemies are. I didn't fully understand the sequence until it had ended and I felt it was the weakest part of the film lasting I believe between 15-20 minutes. I wasn't a big fan of the ending also it felt a little rushed to me for Kurosawa ,which; I find to be out of character for him, but I will say the films final shot was magnificent.

To Conclude I would say that despite the weak final act the rest of the film was very entertaining with an interesting premise and strong characters. If you are a Kurosawa fan you will love it as I did, however; it is definitely not in the category of Seven Samurai, or Roshomon. Visually astounding(the nightmare sequence was my favorite) at times and maybe a little confusing at others in the end it is to good of a film to pass up on even if it has its flaws.
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Akira Kurosawa Strikes Back!
bigsleepj9 September 2003
After spending a decade (or so) in solitary confinement from the Japanese Film Industry Akira Kurosawa returns to make his semi-masterpiece "Kagemusha", which he called a dress-rehearsal for "Ran", made in 1985.

Kagemusha is, probably, the best example of cinematic overkill where nobody actually cares. Cinematic overkill is when someone constructs a complex multi-layered movie, stage epic-battles, introduce likeable and complex characters without having a very complicated message. The message of "Kagemusha" is simply this: If you pretend long enough to be something else you'll become it. Too simple, maybe, for what's delivered.

Not that "Kagemusha" is a bad movie. It's haunting, it's spectacular and it's just great. I keep thinking about it over and over. I can't get it out of my head. Simply put "Kagemusha" is a masterpiece, albeit one up for debate. Not all Kurosawa fans would like it, but that's they're business. Personally, this is one of the movies currently that I'd really like to see again.

PS: Thank goodness for George Lucas and Francis Ford Copolla who funded this movie.
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perhaps the most visually stylistic in the plethora of films by the greatest Japanese director and one heck of a motion picture
TheUnknown837-19 April 2010
Akira Kurosawa (1910-1998) was one of the true masters of the cinema. It was he and people like him that proved to the audience that film-making is not merely a gallimaufry of the various forms of entertainment, but art. Film-making is art inside as well as out. And Kurosawa's dark and brilliant 1980 film "Kagemusha" qualifies without fault. Though the art is more apparent on the outside, there is plenty of it inside as well.

"Kagemusha" translates in English as "Shadow Warrior": the alias given to the unnamed protagonist of the film. The "Kagemusha" is a condemned bandit who is saved from the gallows when the brother of daimyo Takeda Shingen discovers that he bears a striking resemblance to the bloodthirsty dictator. The bandit is promised freedom if he impersonates the war-mongering lord for three years in order to confuse his enemies. However, when the real Shingen is shot and killed by a sharpshooter, the Kagemusha is forced to take all responsibilities of the lifestyle of the lord such as commanding his armies, outwitting his enemies, and serving as a father-figure to his grandson.

The Kagemusha is played by veteran actor Tatsuya Nakadai, whom fought against Toshiro Mifune in both "Yojimbo" and "Sanjuro" and would later work on Akira Kurosawa's highly acclaimed 1985 film "Ran." He also plays the real Takeda Shinge in the opening portion of the film and Nakadai is utterly brilliant in the way he switches between both roles even though these two men are, in a way, identical. It's the way Nakadai acts that we can sense a character difference between the two. An enormous deal of credit is also due to the writers (one of whom is director Kurosawa) who made the brilliant decision of never revealing the actual name of the Kagemusha. And strangely enough, because the writing is so good and Nakadai's acting is so pure, though we don't know the man's name, we can identify and sympathize with him, which is exactly what we do in the last third of the movie. The most brilliant element of the film's human level is the way Nakadai bonds with the grandson of the man whom he is impersonating and the way he discovers that he is not only a better father figure, but a better person, than the actual ruler.

Regardless of your opinion on the movie, there is one thing everybody agrees on: there is beauty painted all over the screen. There's not a badly-lit or badly-composed frame in the entire film. We get a surreal, array-flooded nightmare sequence, gorgeous landscape shots, majestic views of the ocean, and much more. Kurosawa always storyboarded his films using painting as opposed to sketches and here he just let loose an array of passion and colors that undoubtedly mirror what he did while trying to sell the story to distributors. Like he would do with "Ran", although not quite to the same extent, Kurosawa graphically re-enacts violence with an artistic, but harrowing nature that is completely foreign to the glorified, stimulating duels of "Yojimbo." Blood is let loose in torrents throughout the film, but Kurosawa does not overdo it to the point where it might condescend into some kind of an unintentional comedy. The climax of the movie, a recreation of the 1575 Battle of Nagashino brilliantly generates a reaction from the audience and the famous four-minute montage of death and suffering that follows is truly gripping. Like the final showdown of Sergio Leone's "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly" very little happens and this may sound like a premise for an overdrawn sequence, but every second of it is overwhelmingly strong. Perhaps the reason why Akira Kurosawa had such a difficult time getting backers was because he wanted absolute control over his films. Well, he hardly got support and in this case he needed financial assistance from Western admirers George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, but when he did have the money and the control, Kurosawa was relentlessly brilliant.

The running time of "Kagemusha" will question the full extent of its audience as will the scenes where very little happens for a while, but for those who appreciate a good movie and have three hours to spare, this is a tremendously enthralling experience. "Kagemusha" boasts a lot of exterior display, but unlike a great many other movies that have the same accolade of looking good, Kurosawa's movie shows beauty beneath as well, on the human level, encompassing the audience with a heck of a story. It had me drawn in right from the very beginning. This is the definition of a motion picture.

Footnote: keep an eye out in the film for Takashi Shimura, one of Kurosawa's veterans ("Seven Samura", "Ikiru", "Yojimbo", etc.) in one of his last performances.
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A big, beautiful bore
larma711 August 2011
This one is known by many to be a 'warm-up' to "Ran". Perhaps that should have been a warning, as I wasn't a huge fan of that film. But still, I remained interested in this one and it looked good. But lordy did I find this one a big, beautiful, empty bore. I mean, sure, the visuals are crazy good at times, lovely colors, and it is just in general a great looking movie. Excellent design and all. But at the same time I sort of feel that's all that was to it.

The performances here aren't nearly as stilted or obnoxious as some in "Ran", and in fact I really like Tatsuya Nakadai in this. The problem here is that I don't think anyone involved was given much interesting material to work with. It isn't that I don't think there is an interesting story to be told here, but I sort of see this movie as a missed opportunity. Instead of focusing more on developing the character of the impersonator, too much time is spent on scenes of rival sides scheming and questioning if Shingen is alive or dead. Things seem to only be addressed on the surface and the character interactions are never given enough time to breath. More importantly, this might not be as much of a problem if the film didn't move at such an excruciating pace. Some films are deliberately paced a certain way and some films are slow-burning, but this one just feels slow, period, and without much of a purpose most of the time.

Additionally, I often found that scenes and drama were laboriously set-up within the story, then those scenes slowly unfolded, and then there is little actual pay-off. Take for instance the section of the story where the one Clan leader decides to send a priest carrying medicine as a supposed "gift" to Shingen, but really they want to find out if Shingen is actually alive or not. This is thoroughly explained by the Clan leader. Then when the priest arrives, Shingen (or the impersonator) and his fellow leaders discuss how they KNOW what the other Clan leader is up to, and how they must hide it! Then when the scene actually HAPPENS there ends up being little to no tension and nothing actually comes of it. It's just completely frustrating to watch! Scenes go on forever and sometimes the film just feels dead. All of a sudden then we'll cut to a scene of rousing music as men on horse-back prepare for battle. It felt like it all had no real flow at all. Even the battle scenes were really disappointing -- the ones at night were very hard to follow.

I will admit that the movie can be a stunner at times. That ending is really something, but even then it feels like the film is shouting "LOOK HOW EPIC AND TRAGIC I AM!!!!" Sort of like "Ran", really. But in retrospect, this film makes me appreciate "Ran" even more, for where that movie sort of falls apart for me in its later stages, at least it had a little umpf to it. "Kagemusha" feels like it never actually gets off the ground. Kurosawa is a great filmmaker, but I can't get behind this one.
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A war film with no battle scenes, but a lot of heart
Leofwine_draca9 August 2016
Warning: Spoilers
This is Akira Kurosawa's penultimate historical epic made before his last such film, RAN, in 1985. Kurosawa is best known for his string of successful samurai flicks made during the 1950s – the likes of SEVEN SAMURAI, THRONE OF BLOOD, and HIDDEN FORTRESS which have wowed critics and audiences alike for the last half century. KAGEMUSHA, THE SHADOW WARRIOR is a film that sometimes recaptures those glory days but for the most part is a lesser cousin to those classic works. Where films like SEVEN SAMURAI were epic in every sense of the word, the only thing epic about KAGEMUSHA is the running time, which is seriously overlong. This means that there are quite a few slow-paced scenes which add exposition, detail, and character so only the most patient viewers need apply.

Yet this isn't the biggest problem with this flawed film. The major issue is the budget, which ran out before production was complete, meaning that George Lucas came in to supply funding when Toho lucked out. In the end, this provides Kurosawa with the biggest joke of all: he's made a war film without any battle scenes, except he tricks us into thinking he has. He shoots a major incident during the night, relying on some excellent sound effects to recreate the noise and feel of warfare; my favourite trick is the use of a flickering red and blue back screen to simulate the burning of a castle. Even at the climax, we only hear and then see the aftermath of a huge, decisive battle.

The good news is that these things aren't too much of a problem, because at heart KAGEMUSHA is a character piece, all about the guy who pretends to be Shingen. Tatsuya Nakadai takes the duel role of warlord and stand-in, and he's frankly excellent; the finest element of the film. He crafts a believable character, a man living his life as a lie, and his development from a petty thief to a man who really believes that he's Shingen himself is spellbinding. It helps that he's supported by a great cast, all of whom are adept at the official Japanese 'stony face' stance. Kurosawa's is a film of small, telling details and the fact that the whole thing is based on a true story makes what happens even more amazing. A mature, intelligent work of film.
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"The shadow of a man"
Steffi_P19 February 2011
Akira Kurosawa, acclaimed Japanese film writer and director, is probably best known in the west via his influence on many notable new wave era filmmakers. Here two of those Kurosawa acolytes, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, repaid the debt as it were by helping to finance the Japanese veteran's most ambitious and stupendous epic yet. In spite of its grandeur, Kurosawa would later dismiss Kagemusha as a mere "dress rehearsal" for Ran, his even vaster epic of 1985. But when watching this earlier picture's awesome pageantry and historical re-enactment, one's likely response is "some rehearsal!" Kagemusha takes Kurosawa back to his biggest hits of the 1950s, being set in war-torn feudal Japan. However the focus is very different, moving away from the peasants, bandits and disgraced warriors as protagonists and small-scale human relations as his themes, now looking at the machinations of the highest echelon of that society, with an often cold and distant eye. Since his 1971 suicide attempt Kurosawa seemed to become more cynical and detached from human affairs, not just as a writer but also in his technical style as a director. Kagemusha contains very few close-ups, with even key dialogue scenes filmed with vast gaps between camera and actors, and objective god-shots for the busier scenes.

And yet there are similarities here with Kurosawa's much earlier pictures, especially in the director's aesthetic use of movement and stillness within the frame. Check out the scene in which the soldiers hear an enemy playing a flute from across the lines. The men are completely motionless, and the only movement is a flickering fire in the background and the occasional twitch of a flag in the breeze. It makes for a considerably mystical moment. But this approach has a function beyond the aesthetic. The opening scene, filmed all in one shot, shows Lord Shingen, the impersonator (both played by Tatsuya Nakadai) and Nobukado (Tsotomu Yamazaki) all sat in the throne room. The impersonator does not speak until near the end of the scene, but our eyes are drawn to him because of his movements – the occasional change in posture or flash of the eyes – and the comparative stillness of the other two. This long unbroken take means the room, with its great floral crest, is imposed into our minds, and resonates later on when we see Nakadai in the same room, now instated as the lord.

And despite the distances between camera and cast, the colourful costumes against plain backdrops really puts an emphasis on the people in Kagemusha, allowing them to express themselves through body language more than facial expression. Lead man Tatsuya Nakadai is really adept at this, putting so much feeling into a shrug of his shoulders or a turn of his head. When you see, in this picture, the complex vocal arrangements and stylised movements of the Noh troupe, or the drummers who are able to make two strikes a fraction of a beat apart, you see examples of precise co-ordination in many formal rituals of Japanese culture. Nakadai has that same precision and control over his body, and turns them towards both theatrical gesture and realist reaction. And in those one or two cases in which we get to see his face close-up we see his talent there too, an ability to display a real look of emotional injury.

So far there is very little I have said about Kagemusha that one could not also say about the later epic Ran, with the exception of Ran being a little an even bigger production and a little more stylised. So perhaps Kurosawa was right to think of the earlier picture as being a lesser forerunner to the later one. And yet, Kagemusha has the edge over Ran in one aspect. Whereas Ran is a totally dismal and inhumane affair, Kagemusha retains the heart and humanism of Kurosawa's older pictures. Composer Shinichiro Ikebe provides a rousing orchestral score, shot through with a touch of melancholy, and this beautifully matches the tone of the whole piece. It may lack the hopeful message of Seven Samurai or Rashomon, but it has the same warm regard for its characters that, even with a more objective eye, Kurosawa allows us to share in.
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a wealth of historical color
loschavez7 January 2011
Warning: Spoilers
The tremendous Kagemusha is growing old. Kurosawa's genius, however, never dies, and this phenomenal three hours of Japanese color is as young as any film in the archives. The 180 minutes fly by watching such splendor. There are many memorable minutes that flare out brightly in this unbelievable film. Too many to bring back in one review.


I'm especially thrilled to think of Shingen's royal crest, with this motto. The great Shogun: "Swift as the Wind, Silent as the Forest, Merciless as Fire, and Immoveable as the Mountain." Yet, his banner at the final frames of this gorgeous movie; with those words on it, lies beneath the waters of a seashore; finally beaten down. Kagemusha, his shadow warrior is seen above it, lamenting.

Leading up to the climax, a particularly exquisite scene has the victorious foe Oda Nobunaga singing defiant words of a mighty Samurai. For the life of me, I wish I understood them. This wonderful actor, Daisuke Ryu; is absolutely mesmerizing as he dances, holding a fan in his hand! Only Kurosawa could have directed it.

The thief who is made Kagemusha had the best lines in this script; Tatsuya Makadai, on his knees but laughing. He responds to the Lord; who denounces him: "ME, the THIEF? I only steal coins, You steal whole domains!"

What an unforgettable film!
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heywood10022 February 2003
I am a big fan of Akira Kurosawa, and it has to be said that even Kagemusha, the worst Kurosawa film I have seen so far, is miles ahead of most current Hollywood cinema. But overall, this is something of a disappointment. Although the story itself is not bad, and it is all filmed majestically, the editing and pace of the movie is far too slow. The full version is almost three hours long, when the American version is way too long at only 2.5 hours. This really is the only gripe about the film, and if it were shorter it would be worthy of an 8 or 9 out of ten. As it is, this is not recommended unless you have a lot of patience.
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Sometimes the fresh fogging with some strokes
luisguillermoc33 May 2010
After six years of break -his last great film, "Dersu Uzala" had made in the Soviet Union in 1974 - Akira Kurosawa had the support of influential Americans Francis Coppola and George Lucas, who interceded with the Fox to that funded his project "Kagemusha" in exchange for worldwide distribution rights of the film.

Everything that came after the film had the technical aspect of a great production: Hundreds of extras, a carefully staged appropriate to the sixteenth century, apparel obtained from museum collections true, picture of high relief, a majestic soundtrack performed by a full symphony, and a protagonist of many carats and was Tatsuya Nakadai. They wanted to recreate the intricacies of power, the life of the great warlords with their rivalries, their struggles gut, their affections and passions, his stratagems… and his use of humans for its sole convenience. By the way, we have to have their protocols, their heavy meetings and their actions are sometimes too slow and monotonous. A perfect picture of a happy society disappeared, which, Kurosawa is able to look with loving eyes as critics.

The humble thief character, able to supplant the warlord Shingen Takeda, is charming and full history a warmth and human depth, as expected, the feudal lords never understand, and only Takemaru, the little heir to the throne, discovers the emotional force within him and get to share with him a sense emerged from the heart.

The film, in my view, is suffering in part by excessive floor meetings (I counted about a dozen in the first hour and a half), and not for the quality of the dialogues, the torpor may have reached more than one. The scene of the dream, however have excellent scenery, I also is not very eloquent, and two or three scenes, could well abandon some of his footage.

For these reasons, I believe, "Kagemusha" is enjoying half. In any case, I find no grounds for placing it among the highlights of the master Kurosawa.
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Historically Incorrect
vishal_wall31 October 2005
In the midst of war between the warlords in the late 16th century, the most prominent of them all Shingen dies. A thief is hired to emulate Shingen so that Shingen's death remains a secret. After three years he is thrown out. Kagemusha is another great movie by Akira Kurusowa. Movie works at all levels. Action, direction, acting, plot and above all the message that its the designation thats important not the man. I have a personal problem with any script which talks about real people but tempers with the facts. This movie does that. Shingen is the most important figure in the medieval period in Japan. There is no mention anywhere in the history that his look alike ruled for three years. Other than that Its awesome. I think Kurusowa is one those great directors whose movies are bigger than the screen itself. The movie is unbelievable. Its a tear-jerker at times and very hard hitting. The whole movie is just about shadows. It seems movie is a good documentation of the behavior of the people in those days. Too good. A must watch.
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Not very interesting...
winstonsmith_845 April 2001
I have understand Kurosawa is a great director who has made some masterpieces in his lifetime. However, I fail to see the masterpiece in Kagemusha.

The story is very bland, and most of it revolves around a thief who has taken the position of a great Lord, due to the Lord's death. That could be an interesting scenario, but for some reason, it does not work in this film: could it be because the entire film pays too much attention to that? I don't know what this movie does wrong, but for a first time viewing, it is not the first to pick from Kurosawa's work. It seems a bit boring, perhaps. Maybe I am missing something, but this film lacks originality, plot, and the stunning sequences most Akira fans are used to. The film is not as visually stunning as some of his others, and could have included more interesting shots.

Why should we make such a big deal out of a lookalike? Big woop.
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6/10 - Weakest Kurosawa film I've seen yet
markbray46 September 2003
The pacing of this film is awful. There are a large number of scenes which I felt were 2 or 3 times as long as they needed to be. The musical score was also awful and didn't seem to convey the proper mood.

I saw the shorter version. Someone commented that the longer version was better... maybe it is, but it seemed like there wasn't enough story to fill up 2 hrs 40 mins, much less 3 hours.

The only reason it gets a rating of 6 is due to Kurosawa's visuals.
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some knowledge of Japanese history is useful in appreciating this film
ccwf19 July 2003
This film is set at the beginning of the Warring States era of Japanese history, which most Japanese film viewers would have studied extensively in school. Unfortunately for Western viewers, these historical aspects are therefore given little exposition, making some aspects of the film hard to follow for those without such schooling.

Here are some attempts at "liner notes" to help in understanding and appreciating the film (warning: I'm not Japanese and have not had Japanese schooling):

* Shingen Takeda is a warlord vying for power with Oda Nobunaga and his ally Ieyasu.

* Takeda had a reputation for the military prowess of their cavalry. Thus, you see lots and lots of horses featured in the film. Horses were important to the clan. Takeda's symbol is the four diamonds (the exact symbolism is explained in the film). Just as in the West, use of such heraldic symbols in war banners and clothing was very useful in figuring out who is who. So, keep in mind that when you see the four diamonds, whatever their color, those are Takeda forces.

* Nobunaga was known for his adoption of many Western ways. This is why he wears European-influenced clothing and doesn't have the standard samurai haircut (basically, shaved head, topknot). Nobunaga was also known for his use of rifles in battles. So, one of the themes of the film is the struggle of tradition against the influence of the West (in the film, mostly shown through the use of guns although their is also a brief shot of some clerics). Nobunaga's symbol is the five-sectioned flower. Nobunaga is also known for his love of Noh dramas, a dramatic form incorporating difficult-to-understand archaic language and restrained, careful action, somewhat like the film "Kagemusha" itself. Nobunaga launches into a bit of Noh at one point in the film.

* At this early time, Ieyasu was mostly known for his political survival skills. Ieyasu is probably best known to American viewers as the basis for James Clavell's Toranaga character in "Shogun". (Nobunaga is also in "Shogun" albeit as a minor character and under a different name.) The events in this film take place roughly two decades prior to those in "Shogun".

* Takeda's generals each also have their own symbols to help you track them. One of Ieyasu's generals also has a "symbol" (actually, the character "hon", which IMDb will not display).

* Haircuts are a sign of rank. This is why all the lords (except Nobunaga) have a certain haircut, all the pages have the same hairstyle, and so forth. The haircut~rank connection figures even more strongly and explicitly in Kurosawa's "Throne of Blood".

* Japanese men during this period often changed their names as their status changed. For example, in "Toshie to Matsu", Toshie, who is one of Nobunaga's (and, later, Hideyoshi's and Ieyasu's) generals/lords is granted the honor of changing his name to one which incorporates part of his lord's name into his own. Keep this in mind as Takeda's son discusses the use of his father's name and symbol.

* Miltary success and bravery in battle were key means of advancement. Thus, military leaders of this time are often depicted as ever-volunteering to do brave (even stupidly brave) things in hopes of gaining greater status. In "Kagemusha", Takeda's son is desperate for such advancement.
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