Kurosawa hadn't made a "big" film set
(1965) but thanks to the help
of such prominent fanboy friends as George Lucas and
Francis Ford Coppola, he was able to obtain international
financing for a new samurai epic set in sixteenth century Japan.
KAGEMUSHA, Kurosawa first signed Shintaro Katsu,
"Zatoichi" himself, to play the duel role in
KAGEMUSHA, that of a dying warlord and the lookalike thief chosen
to take his place. But after one day of
shooting, Kurosawa fired "Master Ichi", who proved to be too much of a prima donna.
turned to his old faithful stock
company member Tatsuya Nakadai, veteran of such classics as
and HIGH AND
With KAGEMUSHA and
the followup RAN,
Nakadai finally joined
Toshiro Mifune and Takashi Shimura in the pantheon of great Kurosawa
lead players, a place well-earned after nearly thirty-one years of
loyalty to the director he called "The Emperor". He may not
Mifune or Katsu's commanding presence but his expressive face and
are superlative assets in
KAGEMUSHA, especially in scenes where he, as the thief pretending to be
the king, bonds with the dead lord's
Would that I could say KAGEMUSHA is as good as Nakadai is. There is nothing really that wrong with KAGEMUSHA. It's a fine, rewarding film except its length, which, at three hours, is far too long for the slim story it tells. Unlike the Shakespearean roots of RAN, which could easily support a long film, KAGEMUSHA is an epic without an epic tale to tell. Despite Nakadai's fine work, Kurosawa's script gives us no particular reason to care about the character's troubles. Nakadai does what he can with the part, but "The Shadow Warrior" is one of Kurosawa's least interesting protagonists.
KAGEMUSHA was an
for Kurosawa, who may have wondered if he still had it in him to
command hundreds of extras on horseback in massive battle
He did, as the battles are impressive, though RAN's warfare would be
even more outstanding. Kurosawa also sharpened his skills on
with color, long takes and carefully arranged tableaus of
characters - the opening scene features three lookalikes sitting in
place and talking... for seven minutes!
For fans of Takashi
Shimura, look for
him two hours into the film as a doctor. Unfortunately, he is
and out of the film in a matter of
minutes, and his scenes, clearly written simply as a way of getting the
veteran actor into the film, were cut in its original U.S.
release. Thankfully, the Criterion DVD release restores this
footage, which, while not terribly exciting or even interesting, is
historically important, as Shimura would never work for Kurosawa again
and would be dead within two years.
KAGEMUSHA is still a noble effort, beautifully directed and extremely impressive in parts and deserves a respected spot in any good Kurosawa collection. But it is what Kurosawa always said it was: a dry run for RAN, a film he had been planning for several years. ½ - JB