Research Paper Shadow Warrior by Akira Kurosawa The film “Shadow Warrior” also known as “Kagemusha” was made by Kurosawa in the year of 1980. The film recounted the actual historical event about the death of a great samurai Shingen Takeda who was known as the head of Takeda family. The film started in the year of 1573 while all samurai families competed with each other and the final goal was to unite Japan as a whole. The period was also known as Sengoku period. The story began in Shingen’s place while his younger brother, Nobukado found a thief who looked almost exactly like his brother.
The safety for the head of family was top priority during Sengoku period. Therefore, the using of substitute in order to confuse enemies was a common technique used in the battle field. The substitute is called Kagemusha in Japanese. The amazing part of the story is not the using of Kagemusha but the ability of the thief to pretend the real Shingen even he has been dead for more than 2 years. Shingen’s brother and his subordinates also played big roles in hiding the news of Shingen’s death. They tricked the alliance of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu with Kagemusha for more than 2 years.
Oda Nobunaga was considered one of the smartest Lord and Tokugawa Ieyasu was the person who finally united Japan as a whole later in this period. They once suspected right after Shingen’s death but still could not find hard evidence to prove the Shingen was a Kagemusha. The ending of the movie was rather tragic and sad. While the Kagemusha fell of the Shingen’s horse, the secret was revealed. The Kagemusha was able to hide this secret from his wives and grandson and even became really closed to his grandson who was supposed to be Singen’s inheritor for the Takeda Family.
Sadly, he could not hide this secret from a horse which only recognized his real master. The rumor about Kagemusha quickly spread out within the family. Later on, Shingen’s subordinates decided to hold a funeral for Shingen. Kagemusha was not a rumor anymore but a truth. Quickly, Shingen’s son Katsuyori Takeda inherited Takeda family’s army and attacked alliance of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu. Shingen knew his son’s personality would lead Takeda Family into pieces so he named his grandson as his inheritor and his son as the guardian of the inheritor. However, Katsuyori was disappointed about Shingen’s ecision and want to show his ability badly. The first attack he held against alliance of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu was saved by the Kagemusha but not the second time when he became the leader of Takeda Family. As an excepted ending, Takeda Family was defeated and the Kagemusha who simply influenced by Shingen’s will to protect the family was shot on the battle field and died with sorrow and sadness. Kurosawa was a really successful director for war and action movies. He used pretty artistic approach to film a sequence of actions or a scene on the battle field.
For example, he would use different camera angels to film the same sequence of action over and over with different character’s outfit or different usages of colors. This technique he used was to deliver different messages to the audience and to emphasize the quantity, or the quality, or the importance of this particular sequence. “Invoking imagery associated with the military codes of the samurai, he creates brilliant pictures of 16th-century warring feudal factions competing for predominance in a country in which the arts of war were highly developed.
Few movies about medieval warfare have ever been so filled with magnificence in color and design as Kurosawa’s two history films of the 1980s. ”(Manheim) Kagemusha was a historical movie, thus the use of different signs has historical background and meaning. “Wind”, “Woods”, “Fire”, “Mountain” mean different kind of army from Takeda Family. Since Takeda Family was known for their cavalry both “Wind” and “Fire” are cavalry teams which mean their cavalry teams are fast as wind and deadly as fire. Wood” represents infantry which is steady as woods. Finally, “Mountain” is Shingen himself who is always stable and can not be moved by others. These four signs are exclusive for Shingen himself or the head of family. During last battle fought by Shingen’s son and alliance of Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu, Kurosawa emphasized on these four sign heavily and tried to parallel different armies’ action with the meaning of the signs. So we could actually feel the speed of the wind while Takeda Family’s cavalry was moving. The rows on rows of cavalry “bewitching the world with noble horsemanship,” the brilliant ensigns in their primary colors representing the different noble houses, the incomparable swiftness of the warriors in their movements and their swordplay, the peremptory long-distance shouts, the precision of the gunfire, the instantaneous obedience of the foot soldiers to their commanders: all bespeak the beauty, glory, and efficiency of an elegant warfare, even in defeat. “(Manheim)The heavy emphasis on the signs also showed us steps one by one how Takeda Family was defeated.
Because the strong connection between these signs with the Takeda Family, while the Kagemusha found the flag with those 4 signs in the water we immediately understand Takeda Family was defeated totally with nothing left. One other great scene was when most of Takeda family’s army was defeated by enemy’s gunmen, the wound soldiers and horses lying on the ground struggled to die. “In Kagemusha he adds the very effective shots of dying horses to be a more absolute statement of war’s absurdity than any death of the warrior could effect. (Manheim) The way he filmed the horses in silent slow motion was just terrific. It was a real pain to watch this part of the movie. The movement of the horses dying was so real and made u think if they actually wounded those horses during the making of the film or not. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to find any information regarding the condition of those horses but I hope they were doing fine after filming. In Kagemusha, we could find many different aspects of humanity and values. As I thoroughly watch the movie, many questions came into my mind.
What’s the importance of selflessness? How could Kagemusha adapt his values and believes as Shingen’s? Those are pretty critical questions but Kurosawa seemed to reveals his answers in the film. “In his autobiography, Kurosawa remarks, “The Japanese see self-assertion as immoral and self-sacrifice as the sensible course to take in life””(P203 Malpezzi) It was the power of traditional Japanese’s value and Bushido spirit to create a successful Kagemusha. In the beginning of the movie we could clearly identify the character of the thief who was selfish and rude.
After the death of Shingen, we quickly discovered the sympathy inside the thief’s heart. He had a choice to just be himself instead of Shingen’s Kagemusha but he still chose to because he simply didn’t want enemies’ spies to find out the death of Shingen which might lead to the destruction of Takeda Family. Shingen’s brother, Nobukado had guide the Kagemusha fairly well through out those 2 years of period. He taught the thief every behavior of Shingen and he did praise the thief’s reaction if he did a good job on response emergency situations. The film makes us question: Is this heroic gesture still part of the act? Where does it come from, this apparent greatness of soul that finally requires in a counterfeit role an authentic death? Kurosawa implies that it issues from the depths of human nature itself. But if so, as the film makes clear, it hardly arises naturally. ” (Cowan) Despite the traditional Japanese values, through intensive training and the influence of the environment, the thief was willing to give up his own values and become Shingen’s Kagemusha.
Nobukado himself can understand what a Kagemusha feels as he is usually Shingen’s pervious Kagemusha. “For Nobukado the needs of society transcend those of the individual. Clearly he achieved oneness with the role he played, identity with his brotherhood; he assets, “The shadow of a man can never desert that man. ” (P203 Malpezzi) Nobukado was basically nothing after his brother’s death. He has been his brother’s Kagemusha for so long that he has lost his own identity. Sadly, exactly same thing happened to the thief.
People of Takeda Family discarded him like trash after his cover was blown and even soldiers threw rocks at him. And he still fought for Takeda family to the end without regret. The film showed us the power of tradition, culture and environment also makes people wonder what their own self identities are. I personally had a great pleasure watching this film since I do have the knowledge of Japanese history and I am very interested in watching Asian historical movies. The version I watched was with Chinese subtitle which took me a while to translate character’s name into English.
My heart was pounding several times while watching this movie and those scenes were just beautifully done including Kurosawa showed a vast number of cavalry, the Kagemusha was kicked out of the family with soldiers throwing rocks on him and of course the ending scene. There aren’t many movies I could watch till all the credits of the films are played and the DVD is actually in the stop position. This film is something that would make you think about what’s important in your life and how do you identify yourself in different situation. It really took me a while to digest this beautiful work.
I highly recommend anyone who hasn’t watch it yet to go ahead do so. But I do suggest that the more knowledge of Japanese culture and history you acquire the more joy you would get out of this film.
Work Cited 1. Cowan, Louise The Necessity of the Classics.. Intercollegiate Review, Fall2001, Vol. 37 Issue 1, p3, 9p, 1bw 2. Malpezzi, Frances M. ; Clements, William M. The Double and the Theme of Selflessness in Kagemusha.. Literature Film Quarterly, 1989, Vol. 17 Issue 3, p202, 5p 3. Manheim, Michael The Function of Battle Imagery in Kurosawa’s Histories and the Henry V Films; Literature Film Quarterly, 1994; 22 (2): 129-35. (journal article)