Kagemusha (1980): Kurosawa’s Masterful, Oscar-Nominated Samurai Tale

(The Shadow Warrior)




In Akira Kurosawa’s masterful, impressively pictorial samurai film, “Kagemusha” (aka “The Shadow Warrior”), the life of a criminal thief (played by Tatsuya Nakadai) is saved when the authorities realize that they could exploit his physical resemblance to the sixteenth-century warlord Shingen Takeda (Tsutomu Yamazaki) after the latter’s death.  The goal is to keep the battle going on and the morale of the army high.


As usual with Kurosawa, the tale deals with the issues of identity, personal responsibility and honor, and collective responsibility and loyalty.


Everything about “Kagemusha” is epic and on a grand scale, from the running time (180 minutes) to the production values to the narrative strategy, which goes for a slow deliberate pacing.


I saw the film at the New York Film Festival, where Kurosawa claimed that his picture was the most expensive production in Japan’s film history.


The movie was a joint presentation of Fox, Coppola and George Lucas, admirers of the vet director’s work.


Kurosawa’s next epic film, “Ran” was greeted with greater acclaim


Oscar Alert


Oscar Nominations: 2


Foreign-Language Film

Art Direction-Set Decoration: Yoshiro Muraki


Oscar Awards: None


Oscar Context:


The art direction Oscar went to Pierre Guffroy and Jack Stevens for Roman Polanski’s “Tess.”


The winner of the Foreign-Language Film Oscar was inexplicably the Russian melodrama, “Moscow Dosen’t Believe in Tears,” arguably the weakest entry in a race that included “Confidence” from Hungary, Truffaut’s “The Last Metro from France, which was expected to win, and “The Nest” from Spain.