#65. Kagemusha (1980)
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Masato Ide
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai
Kagemusha is Akira Kurosawa’s epic tale of deception within a political dynasty in Sengoku era Japan. The film served as Kurosawa’s return to Japan after a brief excursion to Russia in order to make the equally incredible Dersu Uzala. Kagemusha’s intricate story sees Takeda Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai), leader of the Takeda clan, save a thief from execution due to his uncanny resemblance to the daimyo. This “Kagemusha” (also played by Tatsuya Nakadai) is taught the ways of the Takeda clan in order to serve as their leader’s double, eventually fooling even those closest to the daimyo. After a series of unfortunate events, the Kagemusha is forced to assume leadership upon Takeda Shingen’s untimely demise, throwing the clan into chaos when their enemies suspect that something is going on. Akira Kurosawa is best known for his intimate and action-packed samurai-era epics, and Kagemusha absolutely delivers on that front. While it may be something of a slow burn in its first act, the story being told by the director is an intimate and delicate character study of an incredibly powerful man and his enemies. Stories of people being thrown into positions far over their own heads are age-old, and yet Kagemusha manages to shed a new light on the classic story structure. The titular Kagemusha is transformed from a barbaric thief to a dead ringer for the daimyo of the Takeda clan, and the transformation is wonderful to behold. While Kagemusha is a more personal tale than some of Kurosawa’s other epics, it also features incredible, sweeping panoramic scenes of action. While never as thrilling as something like Ran, Kurosawa’s film doesn’t seem interested in telling a non-stop thrill ride – instead it’s sure of what it is, which is a tale of deception and intrigue, and it delivers on these fronts. The dual performance of Tatsuya Nakadai is admirable, with the actor eventually able to blend the two dynamic personalities into the transformed Kagemusha. The samurai epic saw modest success, tying with Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and picking up an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Film. While it may not be the best introduction to those not familiar with the samurai genre, Kagemusha is a captivating, beautiful, and highly rewarding for those brave enough to give it a shot.