(1980)4.5Dan JardineKagemusha was an atypical entry in the canon of Akira Kurosawa, the master of the samurai epic. At the time, Kurosawa was gradually losing his eyesight, and his films were developing an increasingly impressive visual splendor. However, in Kagemusha, the action sequences are much less thrilling than in Kurosawa's other samurai epics. Here his focus is on character development and philosophical discourse. The film swings like a pendulum between stillness and action, an occasionally jarring mix of David Lean-like panoramas with intimate character study. In Kagemusha (which translates as "shadow warrior"), Kurosawa examines the concept of the double as a means to delve into enigmatic and paradoxical philosophical issues of identity, power, self-worth, and leadership. At first, Tatsuya Nakadai appears a little stiff in the essential dual role of warlord and thief, but his performance relies on subtle differences of intonation and gesture to reveal the evolution of his character. As always, Kurosawa's exploration of the values of feudal Japan provokes contemporary audiences to make parallels with modern Japan, a tendency that did not necessarily endear him to his countrymen. In fact, by 1980 Kurosawa was such a persona non grata in Japan that he had not made a film in five years: Kagemusha would not have been made without the financial assistance of George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.