Kurosawa uses design mise-en-scene deliberately for emotion. Many scenes in this film have characters in the foreground with the background as a set piece allowing the audience to understand what the character feels. Like when Shingen's double wakes from his nightmare, he wakes to a wall behind him with ocean and waves, which showed how he felt like he was drowning, as well as possibly foreshadowing events to come.
While the questions the story raises about image, persona and war are nothing to scoff at, what truly adds weight is Nakadai's arresting (dual?) performance and Kurosawa's obsession with color and the still frame. Combined with the leisurely pacing, this creates a strange, poetic melancholy that led my mind to drift to a bit of American poetry: you don't have to move that mountain. Just help me, lord, to climb it.
Ahh, to be a lord's double in Feudal Japan...It's visually stunning, well-executed, and tragic; but with all the extended moments of silence amongst characters throughout, I can't help but complain about the run time. Relatively speaking, some 3 hour films fly by for an audience, and some don't.
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.
Late Kurosawa is much richer, meditative and symbolic than his earlier self yet his themes remain constant. With a large budget Kurosawa is able to construct a true epic with rich color painterly images which are essential to his narrative. Yet the film hangs too long on the symbols and rituals of it's main theme, essentially the illusions power can hold, and says less than it tries to.