Kagemusha (1980)

kagemusha poster 1980 movie
7.5 Overall Score
Story: 7/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 10/10

Akira Kurosawa always looks great

Plodding story

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Kagemusha

Studio:  Kurosawa Production Co./Toho Company/20th Century Fox

Genre(s):  Drama/War

Release Date(s):  September 7, 2018 (Venice Film Festival)/November 12, 2018 (Hawaii Film Festival)/November 24, 2018 (Japan)

MPAA Rating:  PG

kagemusha tatsuya nakadai tsutomu yamazaki

Yeah…We can use him

Takeda Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai) is the lord of the Takeda clan and frequently uses stand-ins to protect himself and to give him the appearance of being everywhere at once.  When his brother Nobukado (Tsutomu Yamazaki) finds a thief (Tatsuya Nakadai) who looks just like Shingen, Shingen realizes that he could be the perfect kagemusha.  A trip to the battlefront leaves Shingen dead and fears of the clan what would happen if anyone learned about Shingen’s death.  Using the new kagemusha to pose as the real Shingen, the thief could become the new real lord…if the ruse is not uncovered.

Written and directed by Akira Kurosawa (with additional scripting by Masato Ide), Kagemusha (影武者 or Shadow Warrior) is a period epic.  Following Dersu Uzala in 1975, the jidaigeki film shared the Palme d’Or with All That Jazz at Cannes and was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Art Direction.  The Criterion Collection released a released a remastered version of the film (Criterion #267).

kagemusha dream sequence akira kurosawa

I had a Dream

I love Akira Kurosawa…but I struggled with Kagemusha.  With a long runtime and a very dialogue heavy story, I found myself drifting.  The movie wasn’t bad, but it also didn’t grab me like of the director’s other works.

The story takes its basis in the life of Takeda Shingen (1541AD-1573AD), but most of the actual story is fictional.  The idea of a stand-in or a kagemusha is interesting and has a bit of a Prince and the Pauper story.  Of course, the kagemusha begins to fall into the role of being a lord, but much of the oddness of the movie involves people trying to gaslight others into believing that the kagemusha is the real lord (including his family and lovers).

The cast is good with Tatsuya Nakadai having a large chunk of the work in the dual role.  The younger brother faces the struggle of being not in control but also covering for his brother and Tsutomu Yamazaki performs well.  The character that is expansive and it almost feels could be the focus is Kenichi Hagiwara who plays Takeda Hagiwara who is the heir to the title, but finds himself stuck behind an impersonator who is both necessary and taking control of his future.

kagemusha battle scene ending


The movie, like most of the movies of Akira Kurosawa, is wrapped up in impressive visuals.  The battle sequences and the framings of shots are all great.  It ends with a long sequence of a battle and lots of slow motion shots of horses and people dying…for a long…long…long time.  I kept thinking it was over but it would go to another shot.

Kagemusha is a good movie, but it didn’t inspire me like many of Kurosawa’s other epics which fall in a similar era.  It is big and visual, but it doesn’t have the compelling story of something like Seven Samurai or the interesting adaptation of something like Throne of Blood or Ran.  If you are a Kurosawa fan I recommend it, but if like Kurosawa but don’t love Kurosawa, it probably won’t win you over.  Kurosawa followed Kagemusha with Ran in 1985.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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