Monday, September 07, 2009

"Kagemusha" (Language - Japanese) (1980) - Movie Review

However colourful, grandeur and larger than life images the film “Kagemusha” has, it is void of the values and wiseness of Akira Kurosawa’s trademark direction. It I believe is an attempt on the picturesque elite than a well rounded completion of a story. Kurosawa’s eye for the psychology in everything though is out there which forms the back bone of this story. A petty thief is put on with the greatest burden to erase his individuality and become the ruler of a country. In this Kurosawa shows the psychological toughness the background man has to possess to survive and be conspicuous under the skin of his own.

Lord Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai) is a successful and most feared war lord and his brother Nobukado (Tsutomu Yamazaki) has impersonated him to deceive the enemies. Nobukado gets a man out of crucifixion because he saw something in him, unique and that would be put his role to rest. The man is a look alike for Shingen and hence becomes the double Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) for Shingen. In their first meet which is where the movie opens, Shingen wins the heart of his double. The double obviously is played by Tatsuya Nakadai too and he is coarse and quick witted.

They have him as a back up and at the brink of winning over a castle, the unfortunate happens, Shingen gets shot and is badly wounded. His enemies are on the lookout for his demise so that Shingen’s clan Takeda can be annihilated. Two of them are young and clever Tokugawa (Masayuki Yui) and Nobunaga (Daisuke Ryu). They hardly could believe that the man got shot and is nearing death. They constantly sends spies to confirm the news as they do not want to enter an attack and be sorry for the action. This is well read by Shingen himself who advises his son and chiefs to make believe that he is alive for three years. He tells to guard the place they have and do not ever move away from it. Of course it does not go well with an over aspirant son Katsuyori (Kenichi Hagiwara). He wants to prove that he is an independent warrior.

Kurosawa does not cheat his audience in coming up with a well set plot. It is a departure from his style wherein he relies more on the ferocity and stillness of the images than his old school path of his characters learning their lessons and thus providing more to its audience along with the effects he is perfect at. Kurosawa in this film uses the costumes as bright reds with plethora of horses and soldiers running on the green field of death. As the soldiers go for their destiny, there is the pawn movers sitting behind to see their fate.

The story is how the impersonator becomes good at his technique in convincing every one around him to be the great Lord Shingen himself. He comes back home and his grandson Takemaru (Kota Yui) with one look says he is not his grandfather. Of course the chiefs and Nobukado laughs it off but the scare is real. The Kagemusha goes through such close calls but soon gets comfortable. He becomes really close to his grandson and effectively tackles a question from Katsuyori who knows about his identity. This transformation of a petty thief in to a confident and infact courageous persona is the film. He learns the history of Shingen’s motto of “immovable like mountain” and follows it in the face of the battlefield despite when his men by the sides get shot inspiring a great victory.

The failure of this film is the shift of style. I could perceive the change in the presentation which went for the details in the frame than any close up shots at all. We do not get any up close feel with the characters, especially Kagemusha as if to hide the differences from us well. In the final battle scene when the overconfident warmongering Katsuyori sends his troops for a suicide war, we do not see the killings but wait, there is the destruction alive and kicking which runs for several minutes with a background score annoying every brain cells. Similar are many other scenes where Kurosawa opted for a lethargic approach with a screen devoid of details to bring an effect to a niche film. Unfortunately it becomes deadly to the audience being lured into unknowingly taking some sleeping pills.

There is no question that Kurosawa is a legendary director, one I love, admire and wonder of such a greatness in the days of developing effects, styles and dialogues. Yet he has his bad moments and those were few which includes “Throne of Blood”, “Hidden Fortress” and in that joins “Kagemusha”. Though this film is a much better presentation than the two of those. Kurosawa with a great set up may have promised more than he could deliver in this three hour film.

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