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Kagemusha (Japan, 1980) ****

Kagemusha Kagemusha is an Akira Kurosawa period piece, that is in essence an extensive character study. It tells the story of a thief that happened to perfectly resemble a fearless warlord of Japan’s 1500’s. The thief, named Kagemusha and played by Tatsuya Nakadai, is made a double for the warlord Shingen. When Shingen is mortally wounded, he wishes his death to be concealed for three year. The double must bear the weight of misleading friends and foes. To add to the complexities, there is a lot of power play among the dead warlord’s generals, his son, and their enemies. But Kurosawa smartly focuses the film on the impersonator. Can he grow into the character he plays?
It is not the first film to address doubles. There was the Ingmar Bergman 1966 film Persona in which a young nurse comes to wear the personality of a famous stage actress she is taking care of; the 1993 comedy-drama Dave, staring Kevin Kline as a double to the USA president also comes to mind. Yet, painted on the backdrop of bloody battle scenes, and set against a very rigid Japanese culture, Kagemusha is an exploration of a different type for which a short review here would do anything but justice. Not without flows, it is still a timeless masterpiece, especially for Kurosawa fans. The film is 3 hours long.

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