KAGEMUSHA Criterion Blu-ray Review

     August 27, 2009

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Akira Kurosawa had three periods, all of which offered masterpieces. There was his early period, up to 1950’s Rashomon. This includes the excellent Stray Dog. At the time Akira Kurosawa was refining his craft. With Rashomon, Kurosawa entered the world stage as one of the greats, having already started his long partnership with Toshiro Mifune. This king of the arthouse period runs from 1950 through until 1965’s Red Beard. This was the last film the two would do together. 1970’s Dodesukaden started his color period, and it started with Kurosawa in supreme pain, having recently contemplated suicide, and having run through one of the darkest chapters of his life and career. Everything after sputtered for a bit, perhaps having something to do with being fired off of Tora! Tora! Tora! My Review after the jump.

kagemusha_akira_kurosawa_criterion_blu-ray_movie_image_01.jpgThe master only made seven films from then on, and only got to make Kagemusha because George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola produced it. Kagemusha was a dry run, and it is visually gripping from time to time, but mostly a warm up for Ran – which is his late stage masterpiece.

Kagemusha follows petty thief Shingen Takeda (Tatsuya Nakadai), who looks just like a medieval warlord named Kagemusha. When that warlord dies, the imposter moves into place, and must help keep everything in line. He does so for some time, but then the secret is revealed, and chaos descends.

Filmed with great care and beauty, Kurosawa’s visions moved more towards a god-like eye with this and Ran, and the size and color here is phenomenal. It’s hard not to be in awe of the movie. But it doesn’t have the clarity or beauty of Ran, and the score is a bit too bombastic. There are some great humanist moments in the movie, though it doesn’t have the same interest in character of the classic period of Kurosawa. It’s as if the director had already drifted off a bit to heaven.

kagemusha_akira_kurosawa_criterion_blu-ray_movie_image_02.jpgAkira Kurosawa is one of the great masters of cinema, and you’re going to find a lot of worth in this movie, there’s some great sequences where Kurosawa really lets himself indulge in color, and the warfare sequences are unparalleled. Still, I have mixed feelings on this movie.

I have no mixed feelings about Criterion’s Blu-ray. It is a must have. The film is presented in widescreen (1.85:1) and in DTS 4.0 Japanese surround. Extras include a commentary by Stephen Prince, which is the same as the one on the DVD, but is fairly thorough and engaging. “Lucas Coppola and Kurosawa” (19 min.) interviews the two producers about the making of this movie, and their fandom of the director, while “Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create” (41 min.) continues the series of interviews done for Japanese television on his career. “Image: Kurosawa’s Continuity” (43 min.) gives a tour of Kurosawa’s storyboards. This is easily the best supplement on the disc, as the painting are incredible, not only as a sample of his art, but also in terms of how much of this vision got on screen. “A Vision Realized” does a storyboard to film comparison in a still gallery. There’s five Suntory Whiskey commercials (4 min.) shot on the set of the picture. Then, to wrap up the set is the American trailer, and two Japanese trailers.

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