[Happy 35th Birthday!] Kagemusha (1980)

kagemusha1980a

Director: Akira Kurosawa

Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Ken’ichi Hagiwara

Screenplay: Masato Ide, Akira Kurosawa

162 mins. Rated PG.

  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Art Direction – Set Decoration
  • Academy Award Nominee: Best Foreign Language Film

 

In 1980, Akira Kurosawa (Yojimbo, Seven Samurai) released Kagemusha, but it almost didn’t happen. When the film went way over budget, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola stepped in to executive produce the film and keep it from being shut down. Was it worth it?

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Yes.

When warlord Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai, Ran, The Tale of the Princess Kaguya) dies in the middle of his conquest, his brother Nobukado (Tsutomu Yamazaki, Departures, Space Battleship Yamato) replaces him with a criminal who bears a striking resemblance to the former conqueror. Through all his might, the criminal (also played by Nakadai) attempts to protect the ruse under the agreement that he be set free when no longer needed, though forces seek to unmask the lie and possibly topple the balance of power.

I love Kurosawa. His vision sets him apart from many other directors. He had a specific genre and style that surprised viewers his entire life. Kagemusha is huge. This film is glorious and gorgeous and everything that Kurosawa was known for. It also featured one of the biggest battles recorded on film, with 5000 extras. He also knew how to use the footage he had. The battle I just mentioned takes up roughly ten minutes of screen time. Many directors today failed to use restraint to save story, and we get movies like Transformers which focus so much on the battles that they forget the story too often.

The performances from the veteran actors continue to impress. The film also benefits have some amazingly planned out sequences. My favorite Kurosawa moments exist in his surreal sensibilities. There is an incredible dream sequence in Kagemusha, and it happens to be my favorite scene in the film, especially with both roles filled by the same actor.

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Now the film is translated very well into English thanks in part to Lucas and Coppola. Kagemusha is a great piece of cinema that demands to be viewed and experienced. Get your hands on it immediately and be a part of something historic (it is available as part of the Criterion Collection and also on Netflix). The only people who won’t appreciate are those who haven’t seen it.

 

4.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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