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Kagemusha


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Glad you saw this, Alan, and thanks for the religious info, nardis. It has been too many years since I last saw Kagemusha to comment on the film in detail, but as I understand the history, Takeda Shingen (the plot's central warlord) is battling two others in alliance, Tokugawa Ieyasu (who opposed Christianity) and Oda Nobunaga (who supported Christianity and had close ties with the Jesuits). Nobunaga was also known for his worldly sophistication; Stephen Prince quotes Kurosawa as saying, "It is clear that Nobunaga was a genius, a much more 'modern' man than the average Japanese of that time. According to the missionaries, Nobunaga knew that the earth was round, and was well informed about the world situation. He was also an active importer of new objects and ideas from abroad."

When the film ends in 1573,

Shingen is defeated, and Nobunaga and Ieyasu are the gun-toting victors. Nobunaga was assassinated nine years later and Ieyasu's clan eventually ruled Japan beginning in 1600, ushering in the modern era (and repression of Christianity), for the next 200 years

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Found this comment on the web:

"Kurosawa's Kagemusha deals with an earlier period where these feudal lords were just starting out in their career, and Ieyasu/Nobunaga were actually on the same side, against Takeda Shingen .. there's this small scene in the movie where a gray robed christian monk intones a latin blessing ... Nobunaga throws up a martial salute of the sort that has been seen elsewhere as a Roman Ave and the Nazi salute -- an outstretched arm ... roars "Amen" and rides on. "Eminence Grise" / "the gray eminence" (a behind the scenes operator) came into currency much later, and elsewhere (France with Cardinal Richlieu rather than Japan) but I think Kurosawa was trying for the same concept, with the hooded, almost menacing shape of that lone priest standing on a hilltop, watching Nobunaga's troops as they file past and intoning a Latin blessing."

HDTV...I'm jealous.

Edited by Doug C
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Interesting thread. I've never seen Kagemusha but am now eager to. Maybe doing so would inspire me to finally finish reading Silence. ;)

Like a lot of Americans, I suspect, Kurosawa's samurai films provided my first real tastes of foreign film, and I feel now almost like I outgrew them. Or, maybe, I feel like I saw enough of them to "get" Kurosawa's style and, so, could move on. Lately, though, I've been feeling an itch to revisit some old favorites.

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I'm having a few guys from church over to my house tomorrow night to watch and discuss a movie. I'm inclined to pick something I haven't seen before, and it needs to be something that both seasoned cinephiles and guys who only see the weekend blockbuster would enjoy.

I'm thinking about Kagemusha, since I just spotted the Criterion disc on the new release shelf. Most Kurosawa films I've seen are accessible enough and yet excellent enough to please a wide range of viewers.

Would this one be a good introduction to Kurosawa, and a good choice for my little movie night?

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I've had some competing requests, so the group will be voting between these four:

The Insider

Cafe Lumiere

Junebug

Kagemusha

I have a sinking that the 180-minute factor will work against Kagemusha... :(

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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I doubt that they'll chose it, but I may stay up really late just to see it myself. It's been at the very top of my MUST-RENT list for a while as I've waited for a chance to get hold of it.

P.S.  I COULD BE WRONG.

 

Takin' 'er easy for all you sinners at lookingcloser.org. Also abiding at Facebook and Twitter.

 

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  • 1 year later...

Just saw the Criterion version over the weekend. Definitely not a good "first" Kurosawa film, as it is quite slow (and somewhat indulgent to my eyes*) at times. But, still, an excellently well-made film, and a treat to see Kurosawa working in color, taking his earlier samurai films and stretching and working his earlier themes of (hat tip to S. Prince) rebellion and individuality in the context of selflessness and submission to a greater ideal.

FWIW, the thief was spared from crucifixion in the very first scene on account of Nobukada's impression of his resemblence to Shingen. What follows is that reference of crucifixion takes on greater meaning both in terms of the thief's submission to the role of Shingen, perhaps even riffing on the Christian theme of taking up one's cross in service of another, and in terms of the role of "double" as a painful sentence to endure.

I don't think the viewer even learns the name of the thief. Kurosawa was a painter? His composition skills were certainly in full-force here. Some of the scenes (notably the retreating Takeda clan in the first reel) put today's stylists to shame, as everything visual was in service of the themes and story.

A very fine film, albeit slower than any other Kurosawa movie I've seen, that is well worth visiting.

* A quick edit to make a case for "indulgence"--in several scenes, Kurosawa repeats visual elements over and over. Particularly in our introduction to Nobunaga (one of the most exiting characters in the film), we see him ride his horse in circuit three times. Once would have been enough. And in the final battle scene, a good five to ten minutes is given to panning shots over the dead and dying Takeda clan--by the end of the shots I was paying more attention looking for actors who were accidentally moving, like that orc at the end of Fellowship.

Edited by Buckeye Jones
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Well, we do know that Kurosawa had Christian themes on the brain at least some of the time; the main character in Ikiru is explicitly addressed with the phrase "Behold the man!" -- and that was almost 30 years before Kagemusha.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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Well, we do know that Kurosawa had Christian themes on the brain at least some of the time; the main character in Ikiru is explicitly addressed with the phrase "Behold the man!" -- and that was almost 30 years before Kagemusha.

Prince mentions in his opening commentary that Kagemusha is essentially a reflection on both Japan's history and Kurosawa's searching for a meaningful legacy (indeed needing George Lucas and Coppola to secure funding for the film). But Prince also mentions that the filmmaker introduces his own poetic license, and is not driven slavishly by history in the film itself.

I certainly don't want to read Christian themes into Kagemusha; but as a Western viewer, one cannot see the prominence of the thief's sentence of crucifixion's without considering its connotations in our culture. Especially with the historical milieu of the Catholic mission in 16th Japan that Kurosawa definitely brings into play. The context of the Takeda clan is Shinto, but part of the wider context of the film and filmmaker is the role of globalization (though he would not call it such) in Japan's entry into the world stage. Firearms, Jesuits, and wine play throughout the film--perhaps its not a stretch that the Christian concept of selflessness and sacrifice through the language of crucifixion plays a role in the subtext?

Edited by Buckeye Jones
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nardis wrote:

: But in Ran, the religious content has been changed from Christian to Buddhist.

Yes, and in The Lower Depths (1957), based on a play by Gorky (Kurosawa loved Russia, apparently; he also adapted Dostoevsky's The Idiot in 1951, and the only film he made outside Japan was Dersu Uzula in 1975), Kurosawa apparently changed a homeless Russian Orthodox priest to a homeless Buddhist priest -- presumably because he was translating the story from Russian culture to Japanese culture, but perhaps for other reasons as well. (I am not familiar with either the Gorky play or the Kurosawa film.)

: I'm not meaning to say that he didn't incorporate ideas from Christianity, but I

: think it's a mistake to assume that his way of looking at things is either Western

: or Christian.

Has anybody made that mistake here? I don't think Buckeye's suggestion that Kurosawa was "riffing on [a] Christian theme" necessarily implies that Kurosawa was riffing on this theme from a Western or Christian point of view. As you put it, Kurosawa might have been simply "incoporating ideas from Christianity".

I also wonder if the word "Western" is all that helpful in this context, given that Kurosawa did have an affinity for Russian literature and Russian culture, and thus it stands to reason that any Christian influence on Kurosawa's thought might have come primarily through Eastern Orthodox channels rather than Western (i.e. Catholic or Protestant) channels.

"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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  • 1 year later...

Watched this yesterday. When I noted it was 3 hours I was a bit daunted, but it was worth it. I think more than Shinto (which someone noted above), Buddhism is more closely tied to the samurai, although it's really a blend. I noted that one of the rooms in the lord's house was the Sutra room where the lord would read the sutras. This gave the presence of the Christian missionaries, and especially the priest's blessing, a very odd feeling. It certainly made it clear how foreign it was to the culture.

Given how often Kurosawa is adapted to western (and often Western) themes, just as he adopts western stories such as Shakespeare, I was watching this with an eye on how this story would be told in a (forgive me) Hollywood remake. I see it as a great Godfather-like story.

A foreign movie can't be stupid.

-from the film
Armin

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Given how often Kurosawa is adapted to western (and often Western) themes, just as he adopts western stories such as Shakespeare, I was watching this with an eye on how this story would be told in a (forgive me) Hollywood remake. I see it as a great Godfather-like story.

You mean Kurosawa didn't base this on Mark Twain's The Prince and the Pauper? :P

Formerly Baal_T'shuvah

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