Kagemusha

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

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

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.

Sanjuro

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A part of this viewing listCriterion Collection Spine #53: Akira Kurosawa’s Sanjuro.

At first watch, this film is more comedic and less compelling than Yojimbo. At its essence, this is a buddy flick, but Sanjuro has a double handful of impetuous idiots to wrangle instead of just one. Because of this, Sanjuro’s utmost capability stands out at all times. He comes across as an ubermensch ronin who’s so bored with being a badass that he helps out these bumblers just to enliven his day. This might actually turn the film from a comedy into a satire.

I would make the argument that there is an implicit critique of Japanese social structure here, all the mundane samurai are the medieval equivalent of modern salarymen and they all want to be like the bossman, Sanjuro. He, on the other hand, is self-priming and autonomous. Because of this, he is filled with a kind of whimsical contempt toward the other samurai who place worth on things external to themselves. This is a lonely place for Sanjuro, and would irrevocably darken the tone of the film if not for the presence of Mutsuta’s wife. She’s the only other non-villainous character who has the same sort of self-possession, and her peace with herself is a marked contrast to Sanjuro’s discontent. He recognizes this, and the refinement of her personality gives Sanjuro a foundation from which he can launch his fury.

The recipient of this ire, and the only other character Sanjuro instinctively respects, is the other autonomous actor: Hanbei Muroto. Though forced to kill him, Sanjuro has no desire to do so, and the film ends as he continues his search for a group of his equals.