A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #267: Akira Kurosawa’s Kagemusha.


This is a very thought-pro­vok­ing film. The sto­ry could have eas­i­ly been turned in­to farce but for the un­bear­able ten­sion that Shingen’s dou­ble is forced to shoul­der in main­tain­ing the pre­tense that he ac­tu­al­ly is the ruler, while the re­al Shingen mold­ers at the bot­tom of a lake. The lengths that “his” re­tain­ers go to up­hold the il­lu­sion of “his” rule be­comes a clear tes­ta­ment to the ne­ces­si­ty of sta­ble gov­er­nance, but al­so sug­gests that it is mis­guid­ed to put that trust in a spe­cif­ic per­son, rather than the po­si­tion it­self.

Shingen is such a strong ruler that that the mere ru­mor of his death brings a gleam in­to the eye of his an­tag­o­nists, and the dash­ing of that ru­mor puts their tails back be­tween their legs. His wis­dom is such that his last or­ders pre­serve his realm for 3 years af­ter his death, be­fore his im­pul­sive and dis­owned son Katsuyori pro­vides the pud­dding-proof that line-of-de­scent preser­va­tion of a coun­try of­ten pays a hor­ri­ble price. Though the ma­jor­i­ty of the film keeps us with the rul­ing class­es, the fact that Shingen’s dou­ble is a pet­ty thief saved from cru­ci­fix­ion al­ways keeps the poor com­mon Japanese peas­antry “in the room”. The ram­pant slaugh­ter at the end of the film is there­fore much more poignant, and a worse night­mare than any­thing the thief-turned-Shingen has dreamed for the last three years of his life.

Though this thief, is, os­ten­si­bly, the kage­musha, the true shad­ow war­rior is the dead Shingen, who was far­sight­ed and clever enough to know how his lega­cy would crum­ble af­ter his death if his prepa­ra­tions and or­ders were not fol­lowed. A man that comes along once in a cen­tu­ry, but realms are meant to last longer than a sin­gle ruler.

Incidentally, this movie got me itch­ing to play that old 8 bit Nintendo turn-based strat­e­gy and re­source-man­age­ment game Shingen The Ruler.