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Kagemusha

Kurosawa's own artwork
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Ishiro Honda
Produced by Francis Ford Coppola
Akira Kurosawa
George Lucas
Tomoyuki Tanaka
Written by Akira Kurosawa
Masato Ide
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai
Music by Shinichirô Ikebe
Cinematography Takao Saitô
Distributed by Toho Studios (Japan)
20th Century Fox (International)
Release date(s) April 26, 1980 (Japan)
October 6, 1980 (US)
Running time 179 minutes
Country Japan
Language Japanese
Budget ¥2,300,000,000 ($)$11,000,000
Gross revenue $26,000,000 Dollars (Japan)

Kagemusha (影武者 ?) is a 1980 film by Akira Kurosawa. The title (which literally translates to "Shadow Warrior" in Japanese) is a term used for an impersonator. It is set in the Warring States era of Japanese history and tells the story of a lower-class criminal who is taught to impersonate a dying warlord in order to dissuade opposing lords from attacking the newly vulnerable clan. The warlord whom the kagemusha impersonates is based on daimyo Takeda Shingen and the climactic 1575 Battle of Nagashino.[1]

Contents

Plot

The film opens with a shot of what appears to be three identical Shingens. One really is Shingen, the second is his brother, Nobukado. The third man is a thief whom Nobukado accidentally came across and spared from crucifixion, believing the thief's uncanny resemblance to Shingen would prove useful. Shingen agrees that he would prove useful as a double and they decide to use the thief as a kagemusha.

Shingen's army has besieged a castle of Tokugawa Ieyasu. When Shingen visits the battlefield to hear a mysterious nightly flute player, he is shot by a sniper. Mortally wounded, he orders his generals to keep his death a secret for three years. Shingen later dies while being carried over a mountain pass, with only a small group of witnesses.

Nobukado presents the thief to the generals and contrives a plan to have this kagemusha impersonate Shingen full-time. At first, even the thief is unaware of Shingen's death, until he tries to break into a huge jar, believing it to contain treasure, and instead finds Shingen's preserved corpse. After this act, the generals decide they cannot trust the thief and set him free.

The Takeda leaders secretly dump the jar with Shingen's corpse into Lake Suwa. Spies working for Tokugawa and his ally, Oda Nobunaga witness the disposal of the jar, and suspect that Shingen has died and go to report the death. The thief, however, overhearing the spies, goes to offer his services hoping to be of some use to Shingen in death. The Takeda clan preserves the cover-up by saying they were making an offering of sake to the god of the lake.

The spies follow the Takeda army as they march home from the siege. Although they suspect that Shingen has died, they are later convinced by the kagemusha's performance.

Returning home, the kagemusha successfully fools Shingen's concubines and grandson. By imitating Shingen's gestures and learning more about him, the kagemusha begins to take on the persona of Shingen, and is able to awe even the bodyguards and wakashu who knew Shingen best. When he must preside over a clan council, and is unexpectedly asked for his decision on a military matter, he cleverly relies on the clan motto, which identifies Shingen with an unmoving mountain.

When Tokugawa and Oda Nobunaga launch an attack against the territory of the Takeda clan, Shingen's son, Katsuyori, launches a counterattack against the advice of other generals. The kagemusha is forced to lead reinforcements to the Battle of Takatenjin, and helps inspire the troops to victory.

In a fit of overconfidence, the kagemusha attempts to ride Shingen's spirited horse. When he falls off those who rush to help him see that he does not have their lord's battle scars and he is revealed as an impostor. The thief is driven out of the palace, and Katsuyori, despite being disinherited, takes over the clan.

In full control of the Takeda army, Katsuyori leads an ill-advised attack against Oda Nobunaga, who controls Kyoto, resulting in the Battle of Nagashino. Wave after wave of cavalry and infantry are cut down by volleys of matchlock fire, effectively wiping out the Takeda. During this scene, much of the battle is offscreen. Although the charge of the Takeda army and the volley of fire from Nobunaga's soldiers is seen, the actual death of the Takeda men is not shown until the battle is over and the viewer sees a vast scene of carnage as more time is given to the aftermath. (In reality, the clan continued under Katsuyori's leadership for years after the battle). The kagemusha, who has followed the Takeda army, witnesses the slaughter. In a final show of loyalty, he takes up a lance and makes a futile charge against Oda's fortifications, ultimately dying for the Takeda clan. The final image is of the kagemusha's bullet-riddled body being washed away down a river, next to the flag of the Takeda clan.

Production

George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola are credited at the end of the film as executive producers in the international version. This is because they convinced 20th Century Fox to make up a shortfall in the film's budget when the original producers, Toho Studios, could not afford to complete the film. In return, 20th Century Fox received the international distribution rights to the film.

Kurosawa originally cast the boisterous comic actor Shintaro Katsu in the title role. Katsu left the production, however, before the first day of shooting was over; in an interview for the Criterion Collection DVD, executive producer Coppola states that Katsu angered Kurosawa by arriving with his own camera crew to record Kurosawa's filmmaking methods. It is unclear whether Katsu was fired or left of his own accord, but he was replaced by Tatsuya Nakadai, a well-known actor who had appeared in a number of Kurosawa's previous films. Nakadai played both the kagemusha and the lord whom he impersonated.

Kurosawa wrote a part in Kagemusha for his longtime regular actor Takashi Shimura, and Kagemusha was the last Kurosawa film in which Shimura appeared. However, the scene in which he plays a doctor consulting with Shingen's advisors was cut from the western release of the film. The Criterion Collection DVD release of the film restored this scene as well as approximately another twenty minutes worth of footage which had not been seen previously in the west, most notably a scene where Uesugi Kenshin makes his only appearance in the film.

According to Lucas, Kurosawa used 5000 extras for the final battle sequence, filming for a whole day, then he cut it down to 90 seconds in the final release. Many beautiful special effects, and a number of scenes that filled holes in the story, landed on the "cutting-room floor."

Cast

Awards

At the 1980 Cannes Film Festival, Kagemusha shared the Palme d'Or with All That Jazz.[2] Kagemusha was nominated for two Academy Awards (Best Art Direction (Yoshirô Muraki) and Best Foreign Language Film).[3] The film won the César Award in 1981 for Best Foreign Film.

  • BAFTA Awards (UK)
    • Won: Best Costume Design (Seiichiro Momosawa)
    • Won: Best Direction (Akira Kurosawa)
    • Nominated: Best Cinematography (Takao Saitô and Masaharu Ueda)
    • Nominated: Best Film
  • David di Donatello Awards (Italy)
    • Won: Best Director - Foreign Film (Akira Kurosawa)
    • Won: Best Producer - Foreign Film (Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas; tied with Hungaro Film for Angi Vera)

Quotes

Shingen Takeda: Even with this resemblance, Nobukado, he is so wicked as to be sentenced to crucifixion. How could this scoundrel be my double?
Kagemusha: I only stole a few coins. A petty thief. But you've killed hundreds and robbed whole domains. Who is wicked, you or I?
Shingen Takeda: I am wicked, as you believe. I am a scoundrel. I banished my father and I killed my own son. I will do anything to rule this country. War is everywhere. Unless somebody unifies the nation and reigns over us, we will see more rivers of blood and more mountains of the dead.

Masakage Yamagata: How old are you, sire? Fifty-three, as I remember.
Shingen Takeda: Why?
Masakage Yamagata (angrily chastening his lord): And you still behave like a five-year-old child! People gather, scatter, they go left and right following their interests. That is not surprising. But then I find you like this. With such a narrow mind, you must not dream of rulership. Go back to your own domain. You are a mountain monkey. You should be gathering nuts in the mountains of Kai!

Nobukado Takeda: I know it is difficult. I was for a long time the lord's double. It was torture. It is not easy to suppress yourself to become another. Often I wanted to be myself and free. But now I think this was selfish of me. The shadow of a man can never desert that man. I was my brother's shadow. Now that I have lost him, it is as though I am nothing.

Councillor 1: What of the horse? If he cannot ride it, everyone will know.
Councillor 2: His lordship has been ill, and must refrain from riding.
Councillor 1: And his mistresses?
Councillor 2: His lordship has been ill, and must refrain from riding. (general laughter)

References

External links

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