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.
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
After Kurosawa fired Shintarô Katsu from the leading double role, the American producers requested that a internationally known star be cast instead. Because Kurosawa had distanced himself from Toshirô Mifune more than a decade earlier, Tatsuya Nakadai was his only viable option. Mindful of the situation Nakadai accepted the part without even reading the script. He later admitted that the decision was not easy because he had been on friendly terms with Katsu. Purportedly Katsu did not speak to Nakadai for several years after the whole incident.
The leading roles of Lord Shingen and his double were tailored for Shintarô Katsu (The Tale of Zatoichi (1962)) and his brother, also an actor, Tomisaburô Wakayama. After Wakayama excused himself from the project, Katsu was to play both parts himself. However on the first day on set it became clear that Katsu's and Kurosawa's personalities and approach to filmmaking were not compatible and Katsu was promptly dismissed. This created a major crisis in production of the film as well as a field day for the media.