Blu-Ray Review: Kagemusha

Tatsuya Nakadai was one of the best known and most celebrated Japanese actors of his era. He’s probably best known for his partnership with director Masaki Kobayashi, for whom he starred in The Human Condition trilogy, Samurai Rebellion, Kwaidan and many others. However, he also worked with most of the generation’s greatest filmmakers from the Land of the Rising Sun. Including the great Akira Kurosawa. They collaborated five times, most memorably on Kagemusha.

Lord Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai) is the feudal lord of the Takeda clan. When his brother Nobukado (Tsutomu Yamazaki) presents to him a thief (Nakadai) who is his spitting image, they decide that he would be useful as a Kagemusha, a double who acts as a political decoy. This ruse works really well, for a while. Then, one day, the chief is mortally wounded, but before he dies he orders his generals to keep the death secret for three years.  Suddenly the understudy has a starring role.

Kagemusha is an epic tale of smoke and mirrors set in a period rife with political intrigue. Nakadai’s ‘shadow warrior’ is a brilliantly judged performance. It’s such a difficult ask to play two men and then gradually bring one to resemble the other, but he does it in a way which feels authentic and real. Kurosawa’s film basks in kaleidoscopic hues. Delving into fantasy and reality with gay abandon. Kagemusha is a beautifully realised and thoughtful character study, which mixes swordplay and scheming.

Special features:

  • Restored high-definition digital transfer, with DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 soundtrack on Blu-ray edition
  • Audio commentary by Kurosawa scholar Stephen Prince
  • Lucas, Coppola, and Kurosawa, an interview piece from 2005 in which directors George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola discuss Kurosawa and Kagemusha
  • Documentary from 2003 on the making of the film
  • Image: Kurosawa’s Continuity, a piece from 1993 reconstructing Kagemusha through Kurosawa’s paintings and sketches
  • Suntory Whisky commercials made on the set of Kagemusha
  • Gallery of storyboards painted by Kurosawa and images of their realization on-screen
  • Theatrical trailers and teasers
  • Plus: An essay by scholar Peter Grilli (DVD and Blu-ray), and an interview with Kurosawa by renowned critic Tony Rayns (Blu-ray only)
  • Cover painting by Akira Kurosawa

Kagemusha is released in the UK as part of the Criterion Collection on 8 March.

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