Essential Kurosawa: Selected by David Stratton ACMI in association with Sydney Film Festival and the National Film and Sound Archive present


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“Kagemusha is majestic, stately, cool, and, in many of its details, almost abstract”

Vincent Canby, New York Times

Kurosawa only made two films during the 1970s, and one of those was made in the Soviet Union. He was finding it extremely difficult to raise finance in Japan, and it was only with the support of two American admirers – George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola – that he managed to make Kagemusha, which was at the time the most expensive Japanese film ever produced. Again, the setting is the 16th Century, the period of clan wars, and the background to the story is basically true. When clan chief Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai) is fatally wounded he persuades the clan’s hierarchy to replace him secretly with a kagemusha (or double), also played by Nakadai, a thief who was spared the gallows because he bears an uncanny resemblance to Takeda.

In this film, Kurosawa is examining the meaning of power. The enemy believes that the powerful Takeda is still in control, but the reality is very different; yet as long as the subterfuge works, the dead clan leader’s power remains in place. The battle scenes are magnificently staged, but the director leaves in no doubt his attitude towards the madness of war and in particular the pointlessness of this kind of internecine conflict.

Supported by the Japan Foundation