Kagemusha is a historical, war drama film directed by Akira Kurosawa. Its complicated narrative focuses on a thief in 1500s Japan. The thief is saved from an agonizing execution because he physically resembles the warlord Shingen. Nobukado, the warlord’s brother, trains the thief to be Shingen’s body double. The thief and Nobukado wrestle with the implications that they are each “shadows” of Shingen. It is noteworthy that the title “Kagemusha”means something close to “shadow warrior.”
Kurosawa lingers on scenes, allowing details of custom, mannerism, and setting to be appreciated. As always, his sets and costumes are excellent; so are his locations. Most memorable is a field where Shingen’s army marches. The dust and the low sun mix to create an orange vapor, shrouding the figures within. The imagery is so perfect that it seems as though it was hand drawn.
Regent’s library owns the Criterion version, which contains a 48-page booklet and a secondary disk. The booklet has a short piece by film scholar Peter Grilli that gives background information on Kurosawa’s process leading up to the making of Kagemusha. There is also an interview of Kurosawa conducted by film critic Tony Ryans. The transcripts of the interview are paired with biographical sketches written by film historian Donald Ritchie. The booklet also contains illustrations by Kurosawa himself. The secondary disk includes interviews with George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and several behind the scenes features.
Kagemusha’s length and pacing are, admittedly, daunting. An investment of time and concentration must be made or else the film will be too much to digest. Fans of period pieces will particularly appreciate this film, as every scene is replete with historical eye candy.