In feudal Japan, a peasant thief is recruited to impersonate ageing warlord, Shingen. He begins to enjoy the power bestowed on him until the spirit of Shingen pays him a visit and he must lead his troops to battle.
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The political implications are enthralling; themes of power, corruption, leadership, the suppression of the self, all carefully woven into the fabric of the film. However, so much of the subtext can be seen as an extension on the idea of performance; the character compelled to put on a costume, to adopt a persona, to play a part. As such, it's not only AK's definitive political statement, but his most self-reflexive.
A fascinating "what if?" in cinema history would be Kurosawa making this in 1965, instead of the dull "Red Beard". Indeed, "Kagemusha" and the superior "Ran" seem to develop and yet temper the trajectory of rebellion against authority shown in the pre-'65 films. Mifune in multiple roles would also have made a more enticing doubling of composure and derangement than the too tightly-controlled Nakadai.
The battle scenes were staggering to look at if mildly confusing at times, but you can tell Kurosawa was in his element working in big productions like this one. Also, the score is uncommonly flamboyant in comparison to his other works and really effective in its own way, it gave some of the scenes much more energy.
An epic with a capital E as only Kurosawa could make it. Kagemusha is a dazzling pageant of color and light anchored by a magnificent dual performance by Tatsuya Nakadai. However the pacing of the film is uneven to a point where it keeps things from being perfect. Also the version I watched on Netflix instant was the 162 min version which sucks. Still, an enjoyable ride and well worth the watch. Great battle scenes.
While not Kurosawa's best work it is still a stunning epic that shows what a masterful craftsman Kurosawa truly was, with spectacular sets pieces, vibrant colors, and an end sequence that will send chills down your spine.