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.

Ran

  • Directors: Akira Kurosawa
  • Producers: Katsumi Furukawa, Serge Silberman, Masato Hara
  • Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Masato Ide
  • Genres: Action, Drama, War
  • Actors: Tatsuya Nakadai, Mieko Harada

According to Stephen Prince, Ran is “a relentless chronicle of base lust for power, betrayal of the father by his sons, and pervasive wars and murders that destroy all the main characters.”[2] It is a tale about the downfall of the once-powerful Ichimonji clan after its patriarch Hidetora decides to give control of his kingdom up to his three sons: Taro, Jiro, and Saburo. Taro, the eldest, will receive the prestigious First Castle and become leader of the Ichimonji clan, while Jiro and Saburo will be given the Second and Third Castles. Jiro and Saburo are to support Taro, and Hidetora illustrates this by using a bundle of arrows.[3] Hidetora will remain the titular leader and retain the title of Great Lord. Saburo criticizes the logic of Hidetora’s plan. Hidetora achieved power through treachery, he reminds his father, yet he foolishly expects his sons to be loyal to him. Hidetora mistakes these comments for a threat and when his servant Tango comes to Saburo’s defense, he banishes both of them.

Following Hidetora’s abdication, Taro’s wife Lady Kaede begins pushing for Taro to take direct control of the Ichimonji clan, and engineers a rift between Taro and Hidetora. Matters come to a head when Hidetora kills one of Taro’s guards who was threatening his fool Kyoami. When Taro subsequently demands that Hidetora renounce his title of Great Lord, Hidetora storms out of the castle. He then travels to Jiro’s castle, only to discover that Jiro is more interested in using Hidetora as a pawn in his own power play. Finally Hidetora journeys to the third castle, which had been abandoned after Saburo’s forces followed their lord into exile, only to be ambushed by Taro and Jiro. In a horrific massacre that is the centerpiece of the film, Hidetora’s bodyguards and concubines are slaughtered, the castle is set on fire, and Hidetora is left to commit seppuku (ritual suicide). However, much to his dismay, Hidetora’s sword has been broken and he cannot commit seppuku. Instead of killing himself, Hidetora goes mad and escapes from the burning castle. As Taro and Jiro’s forces storm the castle, Jiro’s general Kurogane has Taro assassinated.

In the end, Saburo finally discovers Hidetora, hiding in a cave. The two are reunited and Hidetora comes to his senses. However, Saburo is promptly killed by an assassin that Jiro had sent out earlier. Overcome with grief, Hidetora finally dies, marking the end of the Ichimonji clan. The film ends with a shot of Tsurumaru, standing alone on top of a ruined castle while Saburo’s army mourns for their fallen leader.