Kagemusha (Kurosawa, 1980)

An odd and frustrating samurai epic, mainly because of its lack of bloodshed and violence, especially considering the story remains completely obsessed with war throughout. Kagemusha can be best described as a combination of lavish late Kurosawa color schemes and heightened melodrama, a story concerned with loss of identity and loyalty within warring Samurai clans in the late 16th century. The opening scene, a stunning long take of three samurai sitting in a dark room, one the lord of the clan, the second his brother, and the third a slave spared of death, all seemingly idenitcal in appearance, talking discreetly about how the slave will act as the Lord’s double if ever needed. Of course, later the lord is killed and the slave is made to act as the head of the clan to warn off rivals who smell a cover up. I couldn’t stop thinking of Rob Reiner’s Dave. Kagemusha, made between Dersu Uzala (1975) and Ran (1985), and that’s a tough place to fall in the Kurosawa filmography because both of those films are masterpieces. Well, KagemushaΒ falters mainly due to it’s lack of immediate tension, the characters dwelling on long and hard about tidbits of politics and strategy that enver gain momentum within the hear tof the story. The double, who leanrs to love his position and the appearance of power it brings, ends up caring more about his people than the adivsors that gave him the job. However, the tragedy doesn’t ring true, because we never see the scope of the carnage brought on by the ill-prepared leaders and decision-makers. I’m not sure if this was a budget thing or not, but we are left with a sometimes tedious, always beautiful surface level experience within an oeuvre of hypnotic and deeply mesmerizing ones. While never boring, the film falls into a familar cause and effect rhythm, not producing the haunting cinematic response of other Kurosawa films.

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