Monday, April 16, 2007

Kagemusha – The shadow warrior

A cinematic painting

Image courtsey:

After ‘Red Beard’, Kurosawa found it increasingly difficult to get funding for his projects in Japan. This forced him to seek his funding elsewhere. Until he found two able supporters in his admirers Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, Kagemusha just seemed like an impossible dream. So Kurosawa seems to have spent his time painting elaborate scenes of his movie. There we see that the master was already directing the movie in his head even before it materialized into an actual script.

Kagemusha in Japanese means double or shadow. Hence its English title is shadow warrior. The story starts off with the great leader of the Takeda clan- Shingen, being introduced to a thief who had been condemned to crucifixion. Shingen’s brother Nobukado is the one who points out that the thief has an uncanny resemblance to Shingen and believes that it could prove useful in the long run.

Image courtsey:

Shingen is fatally wounded while his army is besieging a castle of one of his chief rivals Tokugawa Ieyasu. Shingen believes that he will soon succumb to his wounds and die. He therefore fears that his enemies would become bolder at the news of his death and would destroy his clan. Hence he instructs his most trusted generals to keep his death a secret for three more years from both his enemies as well as his subjects.

After Shingen dies Nobukado introduces the thief to the other generals and proposes the idea of making the thief the Kagemusha (double) of Shingen. The fact that Shingen is dead is hidden from even the Kagemusha himself. The Kagemusha on his partfinds it difficult to suppress his own personality and be somebody else all the time. His troubles are further accentuated when he discovers Shingen’s corpse. He is overwhelmed at the thought of being the double for three more years.

In the meanwhile spies of Shingen’s rivals almost finds out that he is dead. However, their conversation is overheard by the thief and he realizes the consequences of his actions. In order to fool the spies as well as to maintain the well being of the clan the thief agrees to be the Kagemusha. He then on manages to assume the role in all sincerity and goes about trying to fool Shingen’s enemies, his family members and even his concubines. The only person who notices a change in the Kagemusha from the original is his grandson who begins to have some affection towards the former. How the Kagemusha manages to play out his role for three years and the clan’s subsequent destiny forms the rest of the movie.

Image courtsey:

Akira Kurosawa brings to our notice several themes in this movie. Most important of which is the one of identity and image. He makes it abundantly clear of the difficulties of forsaking one’s own identity and assuming that of another. He shows us that the bigger the man the greater the shadow has to be and without the man the shadow (double) becomes meaningless and ceases to exist. Kurosawa also highlights the importance of image. He showcases the impact of image over reality. The Kagemusha is so accepted as the real Shingen that his rivals are cautious in attacking him and his guards are willing to die for him. The Kagemusha even manages to win a battle just by his sheer presence behind his army.

This is also another of Kurosawa’s later movies which has a dark ending. He again showcases the fruitlessness of man’s obsession with power and the ultimate destruction that it brings about. In the end all of shingen’s and the Kagemusha’s efforts are made to be in vain by the ambitions of a single man.

Image courtsey:

Kurosawa made this movie as a trial run to his later “Ran”. Kagemusha distinctly reminds you about Ran with its picturisation, loud and striking colors, eloborate war scenes and complex characters. Nothing captures the painterly quality of the movie more than the nightmare sequence of the Kagemusha.

To be honest I did not consider Kagemusha to be at par with some of his other classics. I found the movie to be too slow and too long. But it is still better than a thousand other movies that you might have seen. And that is the hallmark of the genius of Kurosawa.

Reviews of Akira Kurosawa's Major works

Akira Kurosawa

Rashomon (1950)

Ikiru (1952)

Seven Samurai (1954)

Hidden Fortress (1958)

Yojimbo (1961)

High And Low (1963)

Red Beard (1965)

Kagemusha (1980)

Ran (1985)

Rhapsody In August (1991)


Simone Couto said...

Thanks for spending your time at my blog. I will do the same here with pleasure!

Simone Kaplan

Alicia M B Ballard StudioGaleria said...

Thank for the visit and kind words!

Love and joy to you

Ercy Soar said...

Your blog is very good! And, thanks to Biby Cletus for visiting mine.
Kurosawa is one of my favorite movie makers, and I enjoyed reading your reviews of his films. I wrote something about it too and I'm sending the visitors of my blog to them. Hope you don't mind!

allthingspurple said...

Hey, there, your blog really is something. I havent seen these movies showing in our part of the country. Which country are you from?

Have a great day !!

Cipressino said...


Dilip Mutum said...

This is a really great movie. First watched it on TV and was so enthralled that I bought the DVD for my collection.

Thanks for dropping by my blog.

El Duque Carlos Leather said...

Hey man sorry for the delay, but, im here.

Nice job to man, your making a pofecional job here, me, im just comenting. Congratulations.

Memoeslink said...

This is a great blog. Interesting toppics. Can you talk about the battle of Ragnarok?

CW said...

Gorgeous interesting blog.
Bibi -thanks for sending the link and visiting mine, although I did notice you before -was it Neighblogs?

klavaza said...

As Kagemusha was the first Kurosawa movie I ever saw, this one is of paramount importance in my life, and I remember it with special kind. Since then, I have ejoyed this great moviemeker's films, almost all of them of excellent facture. Thanks for visiting my blog, I will return to yours with pleasure.

Okawa Ryuko said...

Biby Cletus, thanks for visiting my blog and writing a comment. This blog is also quite interesting as I'm a huge fan of Japanese movies and the great Kurosawa.Keep on spreading the word about his films!

BOUALI Pascal said...

Congratulations for this very good post about a great movie. "Kagemusha" is one of my favorites with "Ran".
Have a good day.

Sweetxml said...

Hi Biby Cletus.

Thank you for visiting my Sweetxml blog and writing a nice positive comment.
I write about topics that are very different then yours, but I do like Kurosawa's film and especially The seven samurai's.
Your blog looks very good too, but I would prefer not having the adds fill up so much on the frontpage.

Best regards, Brian

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