BluRay/DVD Reviews


By • Mar 29th, 2005 •

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Toho/Twentieth Century Fox 1980
180 minutes

A samurai warlord stares at his exact double, a recently captured petty thief. Before long, the warlord is assassinated. In order to hide this new weak link, the warlord’s advisors hire the thief as a substitute. What follows is in unforgettable study of power-thirst and the folly of war. This is KAGEMUSHA, the comeback film for master film-maker Akira Kurosawa.

In the late 1970’s George Lucas, and Francis Coppola, fresh from conquering Hollywood with their films, watched in dismay as the Japanese film industry regarded Akira Kurosawa as an unmarketable relic. Kurosawa, who bought the Japanese film industry worldwide recognition with his 1950 film RASHOMON, was now being turned away by every Japanese studio for his latest film project. Both Lucas and Coppola borrowed furiously from Kurosawa films (STAR WARS is almost a remake of THE HIDDEN FORTRESS and SEVEN SAMURAI) Coppola’s THE GODFATHER has numerous Kurosawa-styled moments. Lucas and Coppola came to the rescue with international distribution deals. This resulted in KAGEMUSHA, Kurosawa’s long-planned samurai epic, becoming a reality.

During KAGEMUSHA’s “Development Hell” period, Kurosawa made over 200 color drawings of key scenes in the film. The resulting film is a marvel of color usage, shot composition, and character blocking. Tatsuya Nakadai, a veteran of Kurosawa’s films (he’s the gun-happy punk in YOJIMBO and the cool Tokyo detective in HIGH AND LOW) is both the ill-fated warlord and the mangy thief. With two character arcs to deal with, Nakadai helps to keep the film pulsating.
Criterion’s recent DVD release of KAGEMUSHA is one of the best in their long history. It’s a must have for the film fanatic. They present the 180 minute version of KAGEMUSHA that was initially released in Japan in 1980. (20th Century Fox released a truncated 145 minute version for American release.) The extras include behind-the-scenes footage of Kurosawa on the KAGEMUSHA set, interviews with key technical people on the film, as well as actors (including Nakadai) A booklet and video montage with Kurosawa’s drawings complete the DVD. My favorite extra are the Japanese wine commercials Kurosawa and Coppola acted in together.

At the beginning of Chapter 4 of the KAGEMUSHA DVD is a breathtaking shot of a samurai army marching against a setting sun. For me, it’s the best color shot in the history of film.

Disc One: New, high-definition digital transfer. Audio Commentary by Stephen Prince. Disc Two: Lucas & Coppola discuss Kurosawa and their roles as Exec Prods. 41-min doc on the Making of KAGEMUSHA.
43-min video piece reconstructing KEGEMUSHA through Kurosawa’s paintings and sketches. * Whiskey commercials featuring Kurosawa and Coppola. And, an utterly gorgeous 48-page booklet.

Cast: Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki.

Crew: Produced by Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas and Akira Kurosawa
Written by Akira Kurosawa and Masato Ide. Directors of Photography: Takao Saito, Masaharu Ueda. Art Director: Yoshiro Muraki. Music: Shinichiro Ikebe. Costumes: Seiichiro Momosawa. Directed by Akira Kurosawa

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