Saturday, March 20, 2010

#267: Kagemusha

(Akira Kurosawa, 1980)

Kagemusha is another Kurosawa masterpiece, this one - like Ran and Dreams after it - in color that straddles the line between the vivid and the surreal. At three hours, the movie's epic nature doesn't seem as essential, perhaps, as earlier films like Seven Samurai and The Hidden Fortress. The battle scenes here don't compare to the later spectacles of Ran, and the scenes of horses squirming on the ground go on too long and feel a little heartless.

Still, the film is an emotionally engaging look at some of the most interesting Kurosawa and Japanese themes, such as the gulf between social standings, loyalty, and the line between reality and fantasy, life and death. The differences between Kurosawa's earlier films and this modern-era epic are obvious: apart from color, the movie breathes more than his earlier movies, with looser editing and a focus on auteur-side thematic emphasis over storytelling. These elements may be different, but they feel so natural that it is clear Kurosawa did not have the same difficulties that many directors of his generation had translating their style into the modern cinematic era.

Interestingly, it took Kurosawa many years to find the funding for Kagemusha, and when it finally arrived it came from George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, who became executive producers. They would also executive produce another masterpiece about Japan a few years later, Paul Schrader's Mishima.

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