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Kagemusha (The Criterion Collection)
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85 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on April 9, 2005
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
KAGEMUSHA is the great 1980 drama involving a clan of 16th-Century Japanese warlords who want to deceive their enemies by having a common thief impersonate their murdered leader. This is a thought-provoking film about reality and illusion, as well as a visually inviting work filled with many striking scenes and compositions that Kurosawa films are known for. A memorable 6-minute opening shot of three identical-looking men, an elaborate dream sequence, and a harrowing montage of the aftermath of the final battle are among some of Kurosawa's finest moments in his long film career. Lead actor Tatsuya Nakadai was only in his 40s when he made KAGEMUSHA, playing a much older man and effectively conveying the guile and conflicted feelings of the imposter. Nakadai would also play the lead role in Kurosawa's next film, RAN, 5 years later, again unrecognizably playing a much older man.

Criterion has released the definitive video edition for KAGEMUSHA: a Region-1, 2-disc DVD of the uncut, 180-minute version of film. The anamorphic widescreen video quality is generally very good, except for some occasional graininess. The original Japanese audio is in Dolby Digital 4.0 surround (3 front, and 1 mono rear channels), although surround effects are infrequently used.

The best supplement on the disc is Stephen Prince's full-length audio commentary, which, due to the film's length, is able to elaborate on many topics in great details. Much of Prince's narration (I would say half of it) is more on the historical background of the film's period than the filmmaking and art of the film. He compares certain plot details against historical facts to show how Kurosawa uses his artistic license to convey his own ideas. Regarding the film itself, he emphasizes that this is an atypical Kurosawa film in that its hero tries to conform to the prevailing social order, unlike the nonconformist rebels and outcasts in past films such as SEVEN SAMURAI or YOJIMBO. On the film's artistry, he observantly points out that in a film about illusions, many of the key events in the plot are aptly NOT shown on screen. He also provides a great analysis on Kurosawa's most elaborate dream sequence.

Prince also does a good job of pointing out the differences between the shortened, 162-min international version and this 180-min uncut version. The longer version does not have "20 minutes of footage involving Kenshin Uesugi", as misreported at IMDB. The added scenes are, in fact, merely short, trimmed scenes and shots that are sprinkled all over the film. They add to the overall continuity, without altering anything in the main plot line. A majority of the added scenes are just too trivial to mention or to even notice. The few noteworthy ones include a much longer montage of the aftermath of the final battle, and a wholly added scene where the fake Shingen is being examined by the Jesuit priest physician -- this scene also has the great Takashi Shimura's only appearance in the film, seen for the first time on this DVD by viewers outside of Japan.

For Kurosawa fans, the second best feature on the disc is perhaps the collection of impressionistic paintings by Kurosawa that were later used by him as storyboards for the film. In a 41-minute segment called "Image: Kurosawa's Continuity", hundreds of such paintings are shown, accompanied by sound clips from the films. In a still gallery section called "A Vision Realized", there are about 20 of the paintings placed side by side with still photos from the film. Many of these same paintings are also reprinted on the 45-page booklet that comes with this DVD.

The booklet also include 3 wonderful essays. As is usually the case, Criterion took the effort of including different writings that don't duplicate one another. One essay deals with the film itself, its art and its history. Another one is a Sight-and-Sound interview with Kurosawa. The third one covers Kurosawa himself biographically.

The disc also comes with a well-made 41-minute making-of documentary that is comprised of mostly interviews, stills, and clips from KAGEMUSHA. It's part of a 2003 series called "Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create" (other episodes of this series are available on Criterion DVDs of IKIRU, THE LOWER DEPTHS, and STRAY DOG). In Japanese with optional English subtitles, it has interview segments of the cast and crew, including Kurosawa, Nakadai, Kota Yui (the child actor, who is now grown up), and others. They recount the challenges they faced, the artistic and technical choices they made, and a few amusing anecdotes.

Also included are trailers, a few whiskey commercials Kurosawa made on the set of KAGEMUSHA (other than the monetary reasons for which they were made, there is nothing special about these commercials), and a 20-minute interview segment with George Lucas and Francis Coppola, who praise Kurosawa's genius and lament that the film business often doesn't accommodate non-commercial films, even those by great directors.
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124 of 135 people found the following review helpful
Format: VHS Tape
Wow, what a movie experience! "Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior)" is my favorite film from direct Akira Kurosawa, which is saying one heck of a lot when one considers "Rashomon", "Seven Samurai", and "Ran". I sat riveted to the television screen during the entire presentation. It is a story of a petty thief who, because he looks very much like the great Warlord Shingen, is given the chance to redeem himself and play the great Warlord's double. The heart of the film is the inner change and new found strength that progresses through the thief as he learns to become the Warlord. Awesome in its imagery, "Kagemusha" will mesmerize you and move you. Between 1 and 10, this powerful Kurosawa classic gets a 10. With his passing, along with Stanley Kubrick, the world has lost two great treasures.
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80 of 90 people found the following review helpful
on April 14, 2001
Format: VHS Tape
William Goldman, and American screenwriter, admonished aspiring screenwriters to begin scenes as close to end as possible. This is the sort of pacing that audiences--American audiences, at least--are accustomed to. Akira Kurosawa's "Kagemusha" is quite a different sort of movie than would ever be produced by the American or even the European mainstream movie industry.. Its scenes are long and talky, with periods of silence, and still cameras. The scenery, make-up, and mannerisms of the actors are exaggerated and often melodramatic, like you would find in formal Japanese cinema. Anyone seeing this movie expecting a medieval action flick along the lines of, say, "Exalibur," is very likely to be disappointed.
Which would be a shame. This is a magnificent movie. The photography and set design alone are breathtaking. This is more a historical piece than a character study--the characters remain, for the most part, two-dimensional. The focus remains tightly on the strategies and deceptions involved in keeping together the Shingen Takeda clan when their leader has died.
Scenes are often long and patiently filmed. In one quietly dramatic scene, we see two lines of cavalry come galloping over an incline from a great distance. The thunder of the racing horses builds, and the lines converge before us. In this single shot, not much else happens, but the composition and sound create a powerful effect. This movie is filled with subtle, magnificent moments like this.
The battle scenes--well, no one can beat Kurosawa here. The final scene depicts devestation and defeat with surprisingly little gore, yet is no less powerful (and, arguably, more) than, say, the graphically violent scenes in "Saving Private Ryan."
This is a must-see for any movie buff.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
on December 5, 2004
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
It is about time to get this film's definitive version.

I am Amazon user in Japan and already own the original LD release and huge, expensive DVD boxes(cost me about $1,0000.....), and I can assure you that this Criterion version will be "THE BEST" one.

While Japanese version was created from same new Hi-Definition transfer, all features, three-hour movie and 45minits documentary, are bundled in dual-layered disc, which is too much to take in one, and the sound bit rate is 338kbps instead of 448kbps.

I expect, likewise "Red Beard","Hidden fortress" and "Ikiru", one disc will be devoted to the feature presentation and the extra to the other disc on Criterion version so that the quality can be maximized, and can be better than original Japanese release.

Still, among the Japanese original box set, I can say that the quality of "Sansiro Sugata" and two-disc set of "Seven Samurai" are great. I can't wait to see what the folks at Criterion will do to the rest of Kurosawa film releases.

P.S
For the first time, in documantary, Mr.Nakadai talks about taking over the title role from great Shintaro Katsu(Zatoich)who was originaly cast for Shingen and Kagemusha. Simply amazing.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 9, 2007
Format: DVDVerified Purchase
Now this is CINEMA!

The Criterion Collection DVD is filled with extras, from original Japanese documentaries and interviews of the departed Kurosawa (with English subtitles, if needed) and a booklet containing scene sketches

by the Master himself, which help you to understand why his movies are so poetic and his photography so masterful.

The movie is presented uncut and in its full splendor. The sound is just a conventional Stereo, which is probably the original soundtrack.

Pity, because if there had been a Surround division of the channels, some very spectacular battle scenes would have been more involving.

But perhaps, Akira Kurosawa wanted precisely that, to avoid the viewer to be distracted by the fluff, and rather concentrate on the story he is trying to tell.

Also known in the Western hemisphere as "The Shadow Warrior", this is truly an Epic picture with a very beautiful and touching storyline.

This picture is the true and natural tie to other Kurosawa movies like "Seven Samurai", "Yojimbo", "Sanjuro" and "The Hidden Fortress".

Unlike "Throne of Blood" (adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth) and "Ran" (adaptation of King Lear), both also masterpieces, "Kagemusha" is an original Japanese story and gives a thorough insight of Japan in the 17th Century.

I always tought that Criterion was just out to steal our hard-earned money just for its name, but after having now bought Akira Kurosawa's "Ran", the present "Kagemusha", as well as Luchino Visconti's "The Leopard", I will stick to Criterion like CA Glue.

Although pricey, it is through and through, money totally well-spent, for the quality in DVD rendition (very clean and sharp transfers), very acceptable sound, although some more work on this would be nicer, especially with more recent movies.

Criterion has really proven that quality has its own price and believe me, I have never seen "Kagemusha" and "Ran" the way I have watched them on my flatscreen LCD HD TV.

Going to the movies nowadays, with a technology like High Definition TVs, has totally become obsolete.

DVDs, when properly treated and produced can knock out any movie theater in the world.

Thank you Criterion for the work of love you put in remastering and transferring such classics on DVD, not to mention the tons of extras you include with them.

Highly recommended and well worth its price.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2006
Format: DVD
The mortally wounded Lord Shingen (Tatsuya Nakadai), engaged in strife with two opposing warlords for control of feudal Japan, commands that his death be kept a secret for three years in order to prevent both disarray among his clan and conquest by his enemies. Upon his death, his kagemusha, or double (Nakadai again)--a lowly thief with a startling resemblance to the lord--takes over under the strict supervision of Shingen's closest associates.

This visually striking film explores the extent to which a person's identity is constructed by others. The double begins to impress those around him as he seems to grow into the role, even winning the devotion of Shingen's grandson. The man and his social position become blurred until it becomes unclear which is the real person. When the double is unceremoniously humiliated and ejected from the palace toward the end, I could almost imagine that the rage of those who pelted him with stones was also repressed anger against the real Lord Shingen. When the double witnesses the tragic fate of the Takeda clan at the end of the film, it is as if the ghost of Shingen himself has appeared to witness the end of all his dreams. A powerful, thought-provoking, and moving film.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on February 7, 1999
Format: VHS Tape
Here's one example of a film whose power lies firmly in the visual and aesthetic departments. Kagemusha is beautiful beyond belief, filled with cinematic wonder, confident in the sheer force of imagery.
Much has been made of the melodramatic style of acting that Nakadai Tatsuyo indulges in, both here and in Ran (1985). Kagemusha benefits from the fact that it doesn't give Nakadai as much incentive to overplay -- as opposed to the King Lear madness of Ran, which provided Nakadai with a stage to receive his overacting. Kagemusha, thankfully, dwells in the exquisite art designs (Kurosawa Akira took years to draw out the storyboards, having been unable to get the film produced for a long time), perfect compositions, inexhaustible wealth of colours, and sublime lighting. Deservedly the highest-grossing Japanese film of its time and, I would argue, Kurosawa's masterpiece.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on July 31, 2011
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
As ostensibly the 109th reviewer of this astonishing film in Amazon's irrelevant list, there is no need to recapitulate its history, plot, or merits.
What are at issue are the following: A. Why did n't ALL reviewers award this 5 stars? B. How justifiable are the technical criticisms such as the quality of the transfer, and whether indeed one can actually play this DVD at all?
To deal with the first question, several highly intelligent reviewers withheld at least one star because they did not consider it to be Kurosawa's finest film, and others because they thought it less good than RAN. Both arguments are difficult to justify. This was Kurosawa's great leap forward into the world of colour. What a leap! And what colour! He started life as a painter, and judging by the many magnificent examples featured in the Extras, a very talented painter too. For 5 years he churned out paintings of scenes he had in mind for Kagemusha, although its gestation period was closer to a full decade. He painted the film first on paper, and then went on to paint it on the camera. In doing so, he created perhaps the greatest true Art Film up to that time. No film that I know contains a greater profusion of beautiful shots and images, both in their composition and their colour, although the same can be said of RAN. Plot and characters are almost dispensable. You can switch to the commentary, sit back, and allow your eyes to be ravished by the images that emerge from the screen. It is like touring a Gallery displaying the retrospective exhibition of a great artist. The characters don't speak; you don't quite follow all the action in each painting; but these frozen moments in time capture the viewer more so than the work of any other film-maker. Kagemusha's great leap compares with Beethoven's Eroica and Picasso's Les Demoiselles D'Avignon, the ascent to the highest level from which point further advances were simply along a plateau. Seen in this light and knowing that it was, however fine, derivative of its great predecessor, I cannot understand the logic of awarding RAN a higher rating. It does have the advantage of a simpler story-line and one more familiar to Western audiences through King Lear. The one significant fault in Kagemusha is the tortuous plot and the fact that all the characters seem to look alike. It is inevitable that the Thief and the Brother should do so, as they both served as doubles for Shingen; but it is also hard to distinguish the various other warlords and generals. I am sure that Oriental audiences would not have this problem, but it is well known that an untrained Western eye finds it difficult to recognize the facial individuality of Japanese, Chinese, or even African Blacks. Kurosawa's rapid transitions and the similarity of dress compound the problem. I found it impossible to separate the soldiers of one warlord from those of another during the battle scenes, and this was my 3rd viewing of the film. The marvellous voice-over commentary by Stephen Prince is a great help, and I would strongly counsel any first-time viewer to play the movie in this mode before moving to the full version with subtitles. Contrary to some comments, Prince skilfully draws attention to technical and stylistic elements in the way the film is composed, as well as providing a fascinating historical background and highlighting the subtle interplay between the characters that would escape the unobservant eye. Better still, play the documentary IMAGE: KUROSAWA'S CONTINUITY even before the commentary. This shows all of the 200 paintings that Kurosawa produced and fits them into their correct place in the narrative, providing a quick summary of the plot. Some have complained about the acting being cold and less demonstrative than in Kurosawa's earlier Samurai movies, but for me the reserve and self-control, the silences and the long takes, all added to the subtlety and psychological power of this film, and I was very happy to do without the hysterics that for me mar some sections of Seven Samurai.

Now to the 2nd question. It is unforgivable that Amazon should combine reviews on VHS tapes with those on orthodox DVDs and add them to genuine reviews of this Blu Ray version. Forget statements about this NOT being the full 180-minute copy. Ignore those who complain about a poor transfer. Pity those who tried to play the Blu Ray disc through a standard DVD player. This is a technically superb product in every way. The clarity is sharp, except where, as in the burial and dream sequences, Kurosawa deliberately softens the images. The subtitles are detailed and precise. Only the sound track is a disappointment. Most of the time there are no sounds beyond those of the humans and the elements, but there are supposed to be Noh drum rolls from time to time that carry important artistic significance. These and others were inaudible to me, and even the fateful flute melody preceding the shooting of Shingen could hardly be heard. The musical score, mercifully limited, is terrible -- completely wrong, as if it drifted in from Hollywood during an airing of Star Wars.

My final word? Kagemusha or Ran? I prefer the former, but the two fully merit 5 stars and there is no commandment that states: THOU SHALLT NOT BUY BOTH.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2007
Format: DVD
Akira Kurosawa is arguably Japan's most prolific film maker. His creative inspirations have resulted in such classics as The Seven Samurai, Red Beard, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and Ikiru. His films have seen many remakes, including The Magnificent Seven, Last Man Standing, and A Fistful of Dollars. Star Wars characters R2D2 and C3PO are based off of Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress. In a time when film was being revolutionized by such directors as Bergman and Felinni, Kurosawa soon became the third treasure of film. While Bergman explored existential philosophical elements in such films as Wild Strawberries and The Seventh Seal (Kurosawa would later explore existentialism in Ikiru), Kurosawa was making ready use of his own major sets, talented actors, and vast storylines that soon earned him worldwide recognition. In a career that included nearly thirty films, Kurosawa became a legend.

Life, however, was not always easy for the film director Francis Ford Coppola soon called The Master. Kagemusha, or the Shadow Warrior, is a testament to that.

Kagemusha literally translated is Shadow Warrior. Other than a really neat title, it also means Replacement. Which is exactly what this film is, a kind of twisted Prince and the Pauper fable set in the Warring States time period in Japan. I won't go into details about the general storyline- I recommend you IMDB that or look into Amazon's own description, but I am going to attempt to remain as objective as I can be, in hopes of convincing readers to at least see the film without imposing too much of my own personal bias into the topic.

As was previously stated, Kagemusha is more than simply a film. To Kurosawa, it meant the return from a five year hiatus of depression and lethargy. I believe he even tried to commit suicide, though don't quote me. At this point, the seventy-four year old director was without funds, and his attempt at a comeback was easily refuted by every movie studio he approached with the screenplay for Kagemusha. After the flood of samurai and martial arts epic films in the 1960's and 70's, movie companies were burnt out on the samurai concept. Kurosawa was told the film would gross little or no money, despite the seal the film would have on it from the director who made samurai films famous. Dejected, Kurosawa seemed without any resources, until two unlikely film makers came to his rescue. Colleagues Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas loaned Kurosawa the million and a half dollars he needed to launch his film. Signing on as assitant producers, these two brought Kurosawa back into the spotlight, and can be accredited for having laid a foundational hand in helping the director regain enough prestige to soon after create two of his most well-known films, Ran and Dreams.

Now, the film.

The response from many critics on Kagemusha focuses around one summarization: is the film good? Beyond- it's wonderful. But is it one of Kurosawa's better? No. While Kagemusha is in itself a brilliantly done film, it doesn't seem to live up to the standard of other Kurosawa samurai films, such as Rashomon(Which was later remade as Hero) and Throne of Blood. Francis Ford Coppola even commented on this himself, saying it is very difficult for a director to reinvent themselves in a genre that they are familiar with. As to whether or not Kurosawa had done this with Kagemusha, Coppola had no answer.

What makes Kagemusha a brilliant film? To begin, the story is phenomenal. The description on the back of the DVD says it's a meditation on power, and in this respect I believe they were entirely correct. While Ran, which came after Kagemusha, deals with the ideas of power corrupting, and the results it may have on a family or kingdom, Kagemusha deals with obsession and the nature of power itself. It's entirely philosophical in approach, yet it follows the basic Kurosawa model: "A good film must be interesting and enjoyable." Enjoyable it is, as Kurosawa's artistic eye comes out in beautiful display. When the screenplay for the film was originally rejected, Kurosawa painted watercolors of all of the scenes he envisioned. Many scenes within the film appear to be mirrored creations of those ideas, a still painting come to life. At one point in the film the protagonist suffers from a nightmare in which he is trapped in a lake of blood. The setting for this dream sequence is in a gigantic model canvas of a painting all in red. Another scene involves a messenger running through courtyards of soliders. Each new courtyard's soliders are arrayed in different colors of armor (One courtyard's men are all in deep green, while another in dark purple, and yet another in fire red); later in the film, as the troops march to war, the colors almost seem to mesh into one of Kurosawa's paintings. This technique was later used in Ran, but in a wholly original style for each of the two films.

That's another aspect of Kurosawa's films that make them so enjoyable- very few of the storylines have any similarities to one another. The characters are always well developed, the stories themselves original. From the crime thriller Stray Dog to the poignant scenes of Madadayo, Kurosawa always manages to keep a streak of originality in his works. Even the philosophical themes are different in each one- compare Kagemusha's reflection on power to Throne of Blood's. Both deal with the same topic; however, their approaches are entirely different.

What, then, made Kagemusha less of an acheivement in the eyes of critics and viewers alike? I honestly couldn't tell you. Perhaps they were expecting the epic battle sequences that Kurosawa was famous for; there is entirely nothing wrong with that. Who wouldn't want to see a colored version of the fight with the bandits from Seven Samurai, or Toshiro Mifune as Macbeth watching a forest of spears come alive? With respects to Kurosawa, however, there was purpose in everything he did. A director as meticulous as The Master, especially in his later years, viewed all of the elements- sebtextual and on the surface- of his story with a close eye. People looking for the superbly epic bloody battles he was famous for would do well to view Ran or Yojimbo, and probably want to save Kagemusha for when they are in a more reflective mood. To all who refute this, I am not saying Kurosawa does not deal with war in the film. The whole movie's basic storyline focuses around war; however, it is the fighting that he lays off of. Consider why his battle sequences rarely take place in the daytime, or why they are so short (usually less than a minute in length). However, look and see why he spends nearly ten minutes simply filming a march, or another long sequence detailing the after effects of war and battle. Kagemusha, unlike Ran, does not deal with the glory of battle; rather, it reflects on the horrors of war. In many senses, Kagemusha seems to lay the foundation for Ran. Even the lead actor, who played the double in Kagemusha went on the play King Lear in Ran(You will have to forgive me, I am terrible with remembering the exact names. Ran, by the way, is King Lear set in fuedal Japan, with the three daughters changed to three princes instead. The same is true with Throne of Blood being Macbeth.)

Is Kagemusha worth seeing? Absolutely. By any standard it is a superb film. Is it worth buying? I thought so, but remember I am a major Kurosawa fan. People who do not enjoy foriegn films so much, or have not had good introduction to Kurosawa would be recommended to either see some of his more mainstream films, or watch with the knowledge that better Kurosawa works are out there.
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35 of 45 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2005
Format: DVD
I had Kagemusha for several years on VHS, before going exclusively DVD. I remember Kagemusha as one of Akira Kurosawa's best movies, in my opinion, second only to Throne of Blood. I was awaiting the delivery of

the Criterion edition of this movie with great excitement. It was a letdown.

Be warned that this is the mutilated Francis Ford Coppola version, and not the original one!

Almost the whole magnificient battle at the end of the movie has been cut. As it is not violent by today's standards, one can wonder why? And while the quality of the movie is OK, I had expected it to be much better.

One can only hope that one day Kagemusha will be issued in a complete version, so we can watch this movie in all it's splendour, and the way Kurosawa wanted it to be.
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