Review: Films Set In Japan – ‘Kagemusha’ (1980)

This ‘films set in Japan’ series is principally about international movies but I have made an exception for this purely because it was executive produced by George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola. In reality they did nothing other than persuade 21st century Fox to stump up the cash to help legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa finish the ‘Kagemusha’ (shadow warrior is the translation) the way he wanted. In return they got the international distribution rights for the film.

When I watched this I had no particular strong interest in the contents of the film other than seeing Himeji-jo Castle in anticipation of my trip there back in May this year. I enjoyed the opening and powerful closing parts of the film a lot but have to say that my interest did wane during the middle of this epic three hour film which is as much to do with constantly having to concentrate on the screens subtitles as it is to do with the film itself which does feature some scenes where very little happens for a while.

Kagemusha tells the story of a thief who is saved from being hanged by a warlords brother because he closely resembles the king Shingen so he is trained to fill in as Shingen’s double. However, Shingen receives a mortal wound during a siege and his dying wish is for his death to not be known for at least three years. The shadow warrior eventually not only doubles up as the king but as the full time figurehead which ensures they can avoid invasion and defeat by the other two clans. Despite being a common thief he turns out to be a very competent leader and in some ways endears himself to the viewers by being more humorous, treating his mistresses better, and even getting along with the Lord’s own immediate family.

Personally, I still think this movie is a bit over-rated but it was certainly better than I expected. Ultimately it’s a samurai film but I will remember it for showing the pain of a man caught in the vice of his own life and death and that if you pretend to be something else for long enough you’ll start to believe it and eventually become it.

 

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