Review: Kagemusha (1980)


Is it wrong that I felt more for the horses than I did for the people?

Written By: Masato Ide & Akira Kurosawa
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa

My opening line may be pithy, but it sums up my biggest gripe against Kagemusha. I never felt for any of the human characters, I never cared about them, and when the film ended I was far more concerned about the horses than any of the humans. Akira Kurosawa made a technically proficient film, but somewhere along the way he lost sight of the human touch that the film needed. Tatsuya Nakadai is the closest the film has to a human anchor, but he can only do so much. His final moment is a great example of why the human aspect of the film rings hollow to me. When he finds himself in the water near the banner, I had to stop myself and ask why he even bothered with his most recent actions. There was no reason for him to care as much as he did, and the reason for that is because the film never showed us enough believable human interaction for such a final moment to have the impact the film wanted.

Kagemusha is a handsome film, there’s plenty of production value at play in Kagemusha. I was impressed with the set design and the period recreation in Kagemusha. The battles themselves weren’t impressive in the traditional sense, but they were impressive in how the visuals were laid out. Kagemusha is a colorful film, and it is a film that has top level production values. The castle scenes were fun to watch because of the meticulous detail that obviously went into recreating a sixteenth century Japanese feudal castle. The costumes were also quite great, and they had me believing that they were representative of the era in time that the film wanted to showcase.

Kurosawa-san has made his share of epics, but Kagemusha is the first epic I’ve seen from him where I didn’t feel like he produced the best motion picture that he could. I, like most other cinephiles, know what Kurosawa-san is capable of, and he’s capable of so much more than what he gave in Kagemusha. The production value is top notch, but the story is too dry and missing the very necessary human component of a melodrama. It’s not a terrible film by any measure, but Kagemusha is far removed from the top of Kurosawa-san’s catalog. I’d wager that Kagemusha is for Kurosawa-san completest’s only, but based on the acclaim most harbor for Kagemusha I’m in the minority with that opinion. Kagemusha is a decent enough film, mainly in terms of production, that there’s no need for anyone to avoid it. But don’t expect the best of Kurosawa-san. If you do, you’ll be sorely disappointed by Kagemusha.





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