Kagemusha

  • Directors: Akira Kurosawa, Ishiro Honda
  • Producers: Francis Ford Coppola, Akira Kurosawa, George Lucas, Tomoyuki Tanaka
  • Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Masato Ide
  • Genres: Drama, History, War
  • Actors: Tatsuya Nakadai

The film opens with a shot of what appears to be three identical Shingens. One really is Shingen, the second is his brother, Nobukado. The third man is a thief whom Nobukado accidentally came across and spared from crucifixion, believing the thief’s uncanny resemblance to Shingen would prove useful. Shingen agrees that he would prove useful as a double and they decide to use the thief as a kagemusha.

Shingen’s army has besieged a castle of Tokugawa Ieyasu. When Shingen visits the battlefield to hear a mysterious nightly flute player, he is shot by a sniper. Mortally wounded, he orders his generals to keep his death a secret for three years. Shingen later dies while being carried over a mountain pass, with only a small group of witnesses.

Nobukado presents the thief to the generals and contrives a plan to have this kagemusha impersonate Shingen full-time. At first, even the thief is unaware of Shingen’s death, until he tries to break into a huge jar, believing it to contain treasure, and instead finds Shingen’s preserved corpse. After this act, the generals decide they cannot trust the thief and set him free.

The Takeda leaders secretly dump the jar with Shingen’s corpse into Lake Suwa. Spies working for Tokugawa and his ally, Oda Nobunaga witness the disposal of the jar, and suspect that Shingen has died and go to report the death. The thief, however, overhearing the spies, goes to offer his services hoping to be of some use to Shingen in death. The Takeda clan preserves the cover-up by saying they were making an offering of sake to the god of the lake.

In full control of the Takeda army, Katsuyori leads an ill-advised attack against Oda Nobunaga, who controls Kyoto, resulting in the Battle of Nagashino. Wave after wave of cavalry and infantry are cut down by volleys of matchlock fire, effectively wiping out the Takeda. During this scene, much of the battle is offscreen. Although the charge of the Takeda army and the volley of fire from Nobunaga’s soldiers is seen, the actual death of the Takeda men is not shown until the battle is over and the viewer sees a vast scene of carnage as more time is given to the aftermath. (In reality, the clan continued under Katsuyori’s leadership for years after the battle). The kagemusha, who has followed the Takeda army, witnesses the slaughter. In a final show of loyalty, he takes up a lance and makes a futile charge against Oda’s fortifications, ultimately dying for the Takeda clan. The final image is of the kagemusha’s bullet-riddled body being washed away down a river, next to the flag of the Takeda clan.

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