director Akira Kurasawa
Akira Kurasawa’s 1980 film Kagemusha, supported in part by funding from George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, ushered in his late career successes after more than a decade of challenges and disappointments. The film’s success, garnering the Palme D’Or at Cannes, helped get his next film, Ran (1985) made.
In some ways, Kagemusha feels like a bit of a dress rehearsal for Ran, particularly in the massive battle sequence and colorful costuming of the armies.
Set in the 16th century, a thief is saved from execution because of his striking resemblance to the feudal lord of the region, Shingen (both roles, thief and daimyo, are played by Tatsuya Nakadai). Already Shingen has had his brother standing in as a double for him for many years, but finding this new “kagemusha”, or “shadow warrior”, double proves fortuitous when the lord is struck down. The thief is then employed to keep up the appearance of the daimyo to stave off assaults from rival clans who would seek to attack in the vacuum of power.
Kagemusha is a fine film, though it could be argued that Ran is perhaps better. Kagemusha‘s most striking imagery comes from a dream sequence which occurs in a lurid painterly surrealism. Tremendous and vivid.