KAGEMUSHA (Akira Kurosawa, 1980)

“War is everywhere.”

Akira Kurosawa’s most Brechtian film is also among his most Shakespearean films. Kagemusha won the Palme d’Or at Cannes and numerous other prizes for film and direction. The pre-credit sequence, consisting of a single shot, launches the film’s fascination. Three lookalikes appear, two of them sitting in chairs on a raised platform, and the third, closer in, on the floor of a ceremonial room. The figure in the middle is Shingen, the leader of the Takeda clan; to his right (screen-left), his brother, Nobukado. The man on the floor is Kagemusha, a thief about to be crucified whose life Nobukado has had spared because of the unruly man’s resemblance to his warlord brother. In the performance of a lifetime, the same actor, Tatsuya Nakadai (best actor, Japanese film critics), plays both Shingen and Kagemusha. Insofar as he had become Toshiro Mifune’s replacement after Kurosawa and Mifune had their infamous falling-out, Nakadai may be considered Mifune’s “double”; moreover, part of the visual strategy of Kurosawa’s Tengoku to Jigoku (1963) is that the confrontation between the businessman that Mifune plays and the impoverished young medical student turned killer is a kind of mirror-imaging, with the former face-to-face with an alternative possibility of his younger self had he not married into wealth. The intern is played by Tsutomu Yamazaki, who also plays Nobukado Takeda—and brilliantly (best supporting actor, Kinema Junpo Award). There are doubles all around.
     Sixteenth-century Japan; civil war. Three factions, including the Takeda clan, are fighting over Kyoto. When Shingen dies, he is replaced by Kagemusha to keep the death secret. By degrees of the impersonation, Kagemusha—while doing interior battle with the claims made on him by his former identity—becomes Shingen Takeda.
     The burden of historic responsibility becomes Kagemusha’s alternative crucifixion.

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