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.