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>
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." See more »
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 »
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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