Japan / 1980
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Masato Ide
Cast: Tatsuya Nakadi, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kenichi Hagiwara, Kota Yui, Hideji Otaki
Kagemusha was Kurosawa’s first film after a prolonged absence from the screen and his return to form that garnered the Palme d’Or at Cannes. At the time it was Japan’s most expensive production at $6 million and was supported by executive producers Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas as well as an international distribution deal through Twentieth Century Fox, which ensured Kurosawa the largest audience to date for his films.
Set in the 16th century, a thief (Tatsuya Nakadi) who has been sentenced to death is given a second chance due to his uncanny resemblance to the leader of a feuding clan, Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadi). When Takeda is killed in battle, anxious that his death is not discovered and the clan weakened, the thief is installed as the leader’s double in an attempt to fool their enemies. Tutored by Takeda’s brother, the appointment is to last three years.
This double (or kagemusha ) succeeds in his role for a time, settling into the role enough to take on some of the airs and graces of a great warrior and presenting a physical resemblance that successfully fools even members of his own family. However, when the ruse is uncovered he is thrown out and forced to wander the country.
The film is beautifully shot and lavishly produced with intricate detail and some of the most stunning cinematic battle scenes captured on film. Kagemusha’s strength as a director lies in his painterly approach to the epic scenes. The film has found critics who believe it does not quite succeeds in delivering the knock-out emotional punch but what it may lack in human emotional response is more than countered by some of the most rewarding cinematic spectacles seen in recent years.