Kagemusha [1980]

The 1970s were difficult years for the great Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Following the box-office failure of his 1970 film Dodes'ka-den and an unsuccessful suicide attempt, Kurosawa was unable to find financial backing in Japan, and he made his acclaimed 1975 film Dersu Uzala in Siberia with Russian financing. With only partial Japanese backing for his epic project Kagemusha, the 70-year-old master then found American support from George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, who served as coexecutive producers (through 20th Century Fox) for this magnificent 1980 production--to that date the most expensive film in Japanese history. Set in the late 16th century, Kagemusha centers on the Takeda clan, one of three warlord clans battling for control of Japan at the end of the feudal period. When Lord Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai), head of the Takeda clan, is mortally wounded in battle and near death, he orders that his death be kept secret and that his "kagemusha"--or "shadow warrior"--take his place for a period of three years to prevent clan disruption and enemy takeover. The identical double is a petty thief (also played by Nakadai) spared from execution due to his uncanny resemblance to Lord Shingen--but his true identity cannot prevent the tides of fate from rising over the Takeda clan in a climactic scene of battlefield devastation. Through stunning visuals and meticulous attention to every physical and stylistic detail, Kurosawa made a film that restored his status as Japan's greatest filmmaker, and the success of Kagemusha enabled the director to make his 1985 masterpiece, Ran. --Jeff Shannon

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