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When a powerful warlord in medieval Japan dies, a poor thief recruited to impersonate him finds difficulty living up to his role and clashes with the spirit of the warlord during turbulent times in the kingdom
For more about Kagemusha and the Kagemusha Blu-ray release, see Kagemusha Blu-ray Review published by Dr. Svet Atanasov on July 27, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Writers: Akira Kurosawa, Masato Ide
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Kenichi Hagiwara, Jinpachi Nezu, Daisuke Ryu, Masayuki Yui
» See full cast & crew
Kagemusha Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Dr. Svet Atanasov, July 27, 2009
Winner of the Palme d'Or award at the Cannes Film Festival and nominated for two Oscar awards (Best Foreign Language Film and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration), Akira Kurosawa's historical epic "Kagemusha" (1980) arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion. The disc contains a restored high-definition digital transfer of the film, created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm low-contrast print made from the original negative. Amongst the special features on the disc are the documentaries "Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create", "Image: Kurosawa's Continuity" and "Lucas, Coppola, and Kurosawa". The lavish booklet that accompanies the Blu-ray release contains a lengthy interview with the Japanese filmmaker by esteemed critic Tony Rayns. Region-A "locked".
Medieval Japan. A powerful warlord, Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai), is fatally wounded. Before he dies, Shingen instructs his most trusted men to continue his legacy. Afraid that the news of their leader's death would inspire his enemies to unite and attack his clan, the men decide to bring a double, Kagemusha, and replace him.
There is, however, a slight problem with the plan - Kagemusha is a thief who does not know how to be a leader. Regardless, Shingen's men decide to respect the wish of their late lord and keep Kagemusha. A series of awkward events ensue.
Shingen's enemies dispatch their spies. They see Kagemusha and immediately report back that Shingen is alive and well. Unsure what to make of the news, they decide to test him. Some of Shingen's strongholds are attacked.
Meanwhile, Kagemusha manages to fool everyone that he is indeed the leader of the Takeda clan. Only Shingen's son questions whether or not Kagemusha is the same person, but is quickly explained that his father's illness has irreversibly changed his character. Kagemusha's servants and mistresses are totally clueless about his true identity.
As Kagemusha becomes more familiar with his duties, he also grows increasingly frustrated with the needs and expectations of his people. Eventually, he becomes paranoid - in his dreams, Kagemusha is challenged by Shingen's ghost.
Had it not been for Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas, Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior) would have never been made. Despite the Japanese director's status of a living legend, Toho Studios could not secure the needed funding for what had become an obsession - filming the story of the Shadow Warrior. It was the American directors who introduced Kurosawa's script to 20th Century Fox who agreed to sponsor it.
Kagemusha was released in 1980. During the same year, the film entered the official competition at the Cannes Film Festival where it went on to win the coveted Palme d'Or (which it shared with Bob Fosse's All That Jazz). In 1981, Kagemusha was nominated for two Oscars, Best Foreign Language Film and Best Art Direction-Set Decoration (Yoshiro Muraki), but it did not win in any of the two categories.
Kagemusha is poetry in motion. It is one of Kurosawa's most visually striking films where color is of paramount importance. The camera does not simply follow the main protagonists, it continuously studies them. Though not as powerful and subversive as the director's Ran, Kagemusha is just as impeccably lensed.
Kurosawa's continuous fascination with the dark side of humanity is the focus of attention in this film. Kagemusha's painful transformation from a thief to a powerful lord indirectly reflects a transitional period from the Japanese director's life when he struggled with personal demons that had tormented him for years. Kurosawa was only in his 20s when his brother Heigo committed suicide and his life suddenly took an unusual turn, quite similar to that of Kagemusha.
The cast is superb. Shingen was initially to be played by Shintaro Katsu, the iconic Japanese actor who immortalized Zatoichi, the blind samurai, but the role ended up with Tatsuya Nakadai. Hideji Otaki, Kenichi Hagiwara, Tsutomu Yamazaki, Jinpachi Nezu, and Daisuke Ryu's contribution to the film was also invaluable.
Kagemusha Blu-ray, Video Quality
Presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, encoded with MPEG-4 AVC and granted a 1080p transfer, Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Criterion.
This high-definition digital transfer has been created on a Spirit Datacine from a 35 mm low-contrast print made from the original negative. Plenty of debris, scratches, fleck and stains have been removed. Stability has also been improved, and when blown through a digital projector, Kagemusha looks as good as I hoped it would. I did a few random comparisons between the old SDVD release and this new Blu-ray release and can comfortably state that detail is improved dramatically. Contrast, especially during the daylight scenes, is also stronger. The most notable upgrade, however, is in the area of color reproduction. Reds, yellows, greens, browns, blues, blacks and whites are far more impressive on the Blu-ray transfer. This being said, a few of the nighttime scenes seem a bit soft, at times even pale. I believe this is a side effect related to the manner in which the film was shot (the low lighting has certainly contributed to it). The print reveals plenty of natural film grain. As expected, DNR has not been applied. Finally, neither edge-enhancement nor macroblocking plague the Blu-ray release of Kagemusha. To sum it all up, I have absolutely no doubts that this is the best Akira Kurosawa's award-winning film could look at the moment. (Note: This is a Region-A "locked" disc. Therefore, you must have a native Region-A or Region-Free player in order to access its content).
Kagemusha Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There is only one audio track on this Blu-ray disc: Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0. For the record, Criterion have provided optional English subtitles for the main feature.
Kagemusha's soundtrack has been remastered at 24-bit from the original 4-channel stems. A number of pops, hissings, clicks, and hum have been manually removed with Pro Tools HD. Crackle has been attenuated using AudioCube's integrated audio workstation. The audio restoration was supervised by Ryan Hullings.
I don't have any reservations. The Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 track is as stable and potent as it could be. The bass is pleasing, the high frequencies not overdone and the dialog crisp and very easy to follow. Shinichiro Ikebe's haunting score also sounds terrific. I personally did not detect any balance issues to report in this review either. All in all, the Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 4.0 is solid!
Kagemusha Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Lucas, Coppola, and Kurosawa - George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola, longtime fans of Kurosawa's, signed on as executive producers of Kagemusha, helping to secure needed financing for the film. This supplemental feature contains interviews that were recorded in Norther California in 2004. The two directors talk about the impact Kurosawa's films had on them, how Kagemusha came to exist, as well as their own careers as film directors. (20 min, 1080i/60).
Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create - a documentary about the making of Kagemusha, part of the Toho Masterworks series "Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create", features interviews with the actors portraying Shingen, leyasu, and Nobunaga. With optional English subtitles. (42 min, 1080i/60).
Image: Kurosawa's Continuity - a special feature, created in Tokyo by Masayuki Yui (leyasu in Kademusha), using Akira Kurosawa's original storyboards for Kagemusha to reconstruct the director's vision for the film. Kurosawa saw and approved the Yui's re-creation. (44 min, 1080i/60).
A Vision Realized - Akira Kurosawa's original storyboards are featured here alongside their corresponding scenes. Each pairing reveals the precision with which the directors re-created his original vision. The feature can be navigate with the arrow button on your remote control. (1080p).
Suntory Whiskey commercials - a total of five commercials. The years preceding Kagemusha were difficult personally and financially for Akira Kurosawa. But help arrived in the mid-1970s when Teruyo Nogami, Kurosawa's longtime script supervisor and associate producer of Kagemusha, facilitated a relationship between the director and the Suntory ad company, where she was working at the time. Kurosawa appeared in and directed numerous ads for Suntory, including the five commercials in this supplemental feature. These commercials were shot on the set of Kagemusha. (1080i/60).
Trailers - a Japanese teaser and trailer, and a U.S trailer (1080i/60).
Audio commentary - Stephen Prince, author of The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa discusses the Japanese filmmaker's legacy and Kagemusha in particular in a commentary recorded in New York City in 2004.
Booklet - Criterion have supplied a lavish booklet with their release of Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha. The booklet contains: "Kagemusha: from painting to film pageantry" by Peter Grilli, and "Talking with the director", a lengthy interview with the Japanese filmmaker by esteemed critic Tony Rayns reprinted with permission of Sight & Sound. The booklet also contains reproductions of sketches Akira Kurosawa did before Kagemusha was filmed.
Kagemusha Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha is a visual feast. Fortunately for us, it is Criterion that brings it to Blu-ray. As far as I am concerned, this is the best this beautiful film has ever looked. Yes, you have every right to be excited about its high-definition premiere. We Highly Recommended it.
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