Kagemusha

"Very Good"

Kagemusha Review


Before the epic rancor of Ran, Akira Kurosawa told a more intimate, but no less tragic story with Kagemusha. Also set in feudal Japan, but based on real events, the film tells the tale of a thief set in place to impersonate a dead warlord to prevent the warlord's enemies from gaining control. It's kind of like Dave, but much slower and in Japanese.

The film opens in 16th century Japan. Two warlords, Ieyasu (Masayuki Yui) and Nobunaga (Daisuke Ryu), take on a third, Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai), for control of the country. So far, Shingen has them on the run. But a lucky sniper gets off a round that may or may not have killed the warlord. While his enemies wonder, a wounded Shingen demands that should he die, his passing be kept a secret for three years, lest his rivals be emboldened. When Shingen finally gives up the ghost, it's up to his brother Nobukado (Tsutomu Yamazaki) to come up with a plan to carry out those wishes.

Fortunately, Nobukado has thought ahead. In the gripping first scene, he introduces his brother to Kagemusha (also Tatsuya Nakadai), a thief about to be crucified were it not for his resemblance to Shingen. As the moment unfolds, Kagemusha challenges Shingen, claiming that it is Shingen and not himself who is the criminal. The warlord owns up to that and, impressed by the thief's honesty, agrees to have him trained as a double. It's how Kagemusha's perspective changes once he finally assumes that role that creates the arc of the film.

And what a slow arc it is. Once Shingen dies, the film takes a turn for the inert. Things do happen, but they unfold with all the forward momentum of a Jarmusch flick. It's a difficult pace to get used to, but the viewer is rewarded with some striking visuals. Kurosawa's use of color is radiant. From the deep reds and purples of battle to the soft, golden browns of the Suwa castle where Kagemusha carries out his charade, the film is sumptuous.

The imagery supports the film thematically as well. Kurosawa's visuals emphasize shadows (Kagemusha is a shadow of the dead warlord) and crucifixion without being overbearing. The film builds to some unforgettable images, but even they overstay their welcome after a while. It's as if a 90-minute version of this 180-minute film would have been just right.

There are some advantages, however, to the pace Kurosawa establishes. There's time to see the relationship between Kagemusha and his would-be grandson Takemaru (Kota Yui) develop, making the conclusion all the more heartfelt. We can see the rage in Shingen's son Katsuyori (Kenichi Hagiwara) seethe and grow steadily as the overlooked heir to the throne. But none of this is entertaining for very long. Suffice it to say there are many... long... pauses... and few of them seem worth it.

Nakadai's performance as Kagemusha and Shingen is impressive, creating two distinct characters, one of whom eerily mimics the other. This is particularly impressive from a technical standpoint as in the opening scene he must act opposite himself, all in one shot. Today that might not be impressive, but in 1980 without a computer graphics department it's a little harder to sneeze at.

The battle scenes are epic but lack the energy of Kurosawa's follow up. It almost seems as if the ideas, both thematic and technical, that he mastered in Ran were being worked out here. This makes Kagemusha an interesting blueprint for works to come, but less outstanding on its own merit.

The Criterion DVD includes two discs: The feature incorporates a commentary from a Kurosawa scholar, disc two includes executive producers George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola (!) discussing their involvement with the film, two making-of documentaries, some odd Suntory Whiskey commercials shot on the set, and a 48-page book about the film. Whew!

Aka The Shadow Warrior.



Kagemusha

Facts and Figures

Run time: 162 mins

In Theaters: Monday 6th October 1980

Production compaines: Toho Company

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 86%
Fresh: 18 Rotten: 3

IMDB: 8.0 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Shingen Takeda / Kagemusha, as Nobukado Takeda, as Sohachiro Tsuchiya, as Taguchi Gyobu, Ken'ichi Hagiwara as Katsuyori Takeda, as Masakage Yamagata, as Nobunaga Oda, as Ieyasu Tokugawa, as Otsuyanokata, as Oyunokata, Hideo Murota as Nobufusa Baba, Kôji Shimizu as Katsusuke Atobe

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

The Party Movie Review

The Party Movie Review

Comedies don't get much darker than this pitch-black British movie, written and directed by Sally...

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) Movie Review

Noah Baumbach (Frances Ha) is on his way to becoming the new Woody Allen, which...

6 Below Movie Review

6 Below Movie Review

Based on an astonishing true survival story, this film is subtitled "Miracle on the Mountain",...

Mother Movie Review

Mother Movie Review

Darren Aronofsky doesn't make fluffy movies, and has only had one genuine misfire (2014's Noah)....

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

Blade Runner 2049 Movie Review

It's been 35 years since Ridley Scott's 1982 sci-fi classic, which was set in 2019....

On the Road Movie Review

On the Road Movie Review

Wolf Alice fans are likely to be rather disappointed by this hybrid documentary-drama about the...

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Borg/McEnroe Movie Review

Skilfully made by Swedish filmmaker Janus Metz (the award-winning Armadillo), this film is essentially a...

Advertisement
The Glass Castle Movie Review

The Glass Castle Movie Review

There are quite a few terrific moments in this true story, based on the memoir...

Home Again Movie Review

Home Again Movie Review

Reese Witherspoon is so likeable that she can carry even the most hackneyed of romantic...

Brimstone Movie Review

Brimstone Movie Review

An unnerving Western with a sharp female perspective, this film is a series of gruesome...

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Kingsman: The Golden Circle Movie Review

Two years ago, Kingsman: The Secret Service seemed to come out of nowhere, ruffling feathers...

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

Goodbye Christopher Robin Movie Review

This biopic about Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne may look like the usual lushly...

Wind River Movie Review

Wind River Movie Review

After writing the superb Sicario and Hell or High Water, Taylor Sheridan moves back into...

The Vault Movie Review

The Vault Movie Review

Filmmakers Dan Bush and Conal Byrne attempt a mash-up of a frantic heist movie with...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.