Combustible Celluloid
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With: Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kenichi Hagiwara, Jinpachi Nezu, Hideji Otaki, Daisuke Ryu, Masayuki Yui, Kaori Momoi, Mitsuko Baisho, Hideo Murota, Takayuki Shiho, Kōji Shimizu, Noburo Shimizu, Sen Yamamoto, Shuhei Sugimori, Takashi Shimura, Eiichi Kanakubo, Francis Selleck
Written by: Akira Kurosawa, Masato Ide
Directed by: Akira Kurosawa
MPAA Rating: PG
Language: Japanese, with English subtitles
Running Time: 180
Date: 04/23/1980

Kagemusha (1980)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Shadow Play

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Even though he had recently won an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (for Dersu Uzala), and even though he was widely recognized as one of the most famous and celebrated filmmakers in the world, by 1980, Akira Kurosawa couldn't get a film made. Thankfully two of his fans, George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, came to his rescue and helped secure funding for what became Kagemusha (1980), one of the director's most beautiful epics, and one of his best films in color. Set in the 16th century, it concerns the feudal lord Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai), who is fatally wounded by a sniper.

Slowly dying, yet hoping to fool his enemies into thinking he is still alive and in command, he orders that a "kagemusha," or a shadow (or double) be used to stand in for him for a period of three years after his death. Shingen's brother finds a thief who is a dead ringer for the lord (also played by Tatsuya Nakadai). But the trick is fooling those closest to Shingen, including his concubines, that the faker is the real thing. A key sequence is a jaw-dropping, painterly nightmare in which the thief imagines himself stalked by the real Shingen, although Kurosawa's legendarily stunning, heartbreaking battlefield sequences are here to be savored as well. The film received Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Art Direction.

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