Kagemusha : The Shadow Warrior

Akira Kurosawa is one of the few directors who, in my humble (but clearly incredibly well informed) opinion, deserves his legendary status. This is simply because his films are universally excellent. The important part being ‘universally’, he is legendary because he never misses. I bring this up because some have held up Kagemusha as an example of one of Kurosawas less brilliant films. This is something I refute. Hotly. Like, lets take this outside after I have slapped you with a glove. Pistols at dawn dispute. Kagemusha begins with a warlord, his brother and a third man. All three of them look alike, so alike in fact that each one could be the other. The third man was due to be crucified (yep, crucified) that very day, however his likeness to the warlord saves him. When the warlord declares that should it occur, his death should be kept secret for three years so his clan can work to defend the land they rule and consolidate their power … well, you can guess where this is heading. This film is an epic two and a half hours long though, so things clearly get a little more complicated than this. Only a little though. And I think this might be the problem for some. Though the films setting, the hyper hierarchical, politically turbulent Sengoku period means there is a constant backdrop of pitched battles and military activity, what is far more interesting is the questions it raises about individuality and the roles we inhabit. Because this aspect of the film is never resolved as cleanly as the epic battles which bookend it, it is held up as a potentially poorly thought out, less meaningful film. I would argue though that a most of the key scenes deal with the nature of the body-doubles role, representing it as both a fundamentally introspective journey, as well as a strange and sometimes upsetting situation for those around him. That this is confusing and uncertain in every regard is a key aspect of its value as a plot, if it were resolved it would lose its resonance. One need only add to this that Kagemusha is as visually striking, and stunningly beautiful as all of Kurosawas other films and you can see why that legendary badge is so well deserved.


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