Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior (1980)
|Year Of Production||1980|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (71:25)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Akira Kurosawa|
Twentieth Century Fox
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||None||English Dolby Digital 4.0 L-C-R-S (384Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||1.78:1|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.85:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||Yes|
Most directors would give their right arm to make a movie of this calibre, but for famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa this would have to rank as one of his less majestic and vibrant movies, although still a cut above what most people could create. Kagemusha - The Shadow Warrior is by no means a bad movie, although it is a little stilted and slow at times compared to his other great movies (eg: Seventh Samurai, Yoshimbo and Ran). Still, if you want an introduction to probably one of the foremost directors of the 20th century and you can stand subtitles that are quite obviously précis of what is being said onscreen, then you may well want to take a look at this one.
Kagemusha means quite literally the double. In essence it also means something that is a shadow of the real thing and therefore partially diminished by being less than the original. This intended notion becomes apparent from the very opening scene where a prisoner, the very likeness of Lord Shingen, one of the most powerful of the warlords in Japan, is brought before his lord and master having been saved from the executioner's block by the timely intervention of Shingen's brother, Nobukado. Here, they discuss his fate, speaking about him as if he wasn't there, while he listens on in silence. After a slightly heated debate, it is decided to train the double rather than execute him.
As the movie unfolds, you learn there are three great warlords, all vying for ultimate power in Japan; Shingen, Nobunaga and Ieyasu. All three are constantly sniping at each other in small melees or battles, but a stalemate has begun to take hold so a decisive strike by Lord Shingen upon one of the castles of Ieyasu ensues. During this assault, Asakura, one of Shingen's chief supporters, withdraws his support in the middle of an assault. This, plus the imminent arrival of Nobunaga to help in relief of the castle, leaves Shingen with a hard choice. Even though his men have secured a major victory in cutting off the aqueduct that supplies the castle's water, Shingen doesn't believe that the castle will fall easily or quickly because the defender's resolve is still intact. Each night, the master of the castle plays his flute in defiance of the besiegers and Shingen makes it known that if the flute is heard that night he will withdraw and try again later. It is this decision, plus his desire to be there that night to hear the flute playing that brings on a calamity. That night, the flute is heard playing and also a single shot rings out. The next day rumours begin to spread that Shingen is dead and everyone, his own men included, begin to speculate. This is especially true of his opponents who fear him and his reputation as a fierce leader above all other warlords.
Meantime, Shingen, who isn't dead but is fatally wounded, holds a clan meeting where he impresses upon his subordinates not to reveal his coming death for at least 3 years. His plan is to move the clan back to their own holdings and defend resolutely. His belief is that unless this is done the Takeda clan will be destroyed. Back in the castle an investigation into the shooting takes place with the warrior who fired the shot showing his own commanders how he did it. On his way home, Shingen dies in his palanquin and his subordinates put his final request into action and the Kagemusha now takes the place of his former lord and master. Enemy spies are dispatched to determine if Shingen is dead. All the while, great care is taken to hide the fact that he is by his own people. Even the Kagemusha doesn't know for sure until one night he breaks into a stone jar where he discovers the body of his dead master.
After finding this out, he refuses to continue in his role as the Lord's body double and after a quick meeting of the other lords it is decided not to continue the charade with the double. The jar therefore, the next morning, is taken to Lake Sawa where it is ceremoniously dumped into the lake. The now cast-out Kagemusha takes refuge in a small shack by the lake to watch proceedings but when he is almost discovered by a group of spies bent on finding out the truth about the jar, he realises that his former lord's death must continue to be disguised while the clan regroups and reorganises. The spies suspect it is Shingen's burial and talk amongst themselves about this, making plans to return to their leaders and announce the fact of Shingen's death. Believing discovery will harm his clan, the Kagemusha rushes back to the clan leaders and begs to be allowed to continue his deception, thereby thwarting the spies and giving his clan more time. Eventually, the other lords agree and announce that a jar of saké was used as a dedication to the lake, misleading the spies.
As the deception wears on, Shingen's son begins to chafe at the fact that he has been passed over and plans to usurp the throne. An attack by Ieyasu on some outlying castles offers a perfect opportunity for him take control, and as he confronts Ieyasu he still plagued by his father's legacy in the form of his double. Even this double's mere presence upon a battlefield has the effect of swinging the odds in the battle, but this only stiffens his son's resolve to become his own man. In order to exercise this authority, he quickly sets aside his father's decree to remain behind their defences and he begins to move out from behind his power base to confront Ieyasu, only to discover that, unlike his father, his enemies aren't afraid of him and he's not half the leader his father was.
There is a real sense of grandeur in Kurosawa's films, including his epic battle scenes. The strange thing is that they really are anti-war in so many respects. The sheer futility underlying each battle is evident right down to the final, terrible conflagration. Although this isn't Kurosawa's best work by a mile, it's still worthy of a place in anyone's collection.
A movie like this deserves better than this. Although there are some moments of quality, the majority isn't that spectacular and suffers from a mediocre transfer from obviously flawed source material.
The transfer is offered up in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced, close to its original theatrical release ratio of 1.85:1.
The overall sharpness is degraded by the continuous and ever-present grain that permeates the entire movie. Every now and then it slackens off, offering some good quality, but for much of the movie it is akin to looking through a piece of shadecloth. What little shadow detail can be seen is mostly incidental, with both foreground and background images tending to take on a shapelessness at times. Backgrounds fare the worst, with them often being nothing more than black blobs. Edge enhancement is used everywhere - just look at any scene and it's fairly obvious. Low level noise is fairly inconsequential because it can't be determined if there is any due to the ever-present nature of the grain.
The colours were okay for the most part, but occasionally skintones are a little off red-wise (eg: 45:51). Saturation levels are good with good variety throughout. No noticeable bleed or chroma noise was detected at anytime.
Minor flecks and spots on the print are the worst that you get (47:28 is a typical example). The only noticeable ones are the white spots. Telecine wobble is a real curse during the movie. 15:43 is a good example of visibly noticeable wobble. A more subtle form occurs around 69:00 until 71:25 where there is an imperceptible movement that slides past the eye if you don't look carefully. Once again around the 77 minute mark this occurs and the picture looks as if it is 'trembling'. It can be hard to spot unless you really concentrate and look for it, but there are plenty more examples during the movie. Aliasing and moiré artefacts are fairly minimal with no real noticeable examples and only the odd shimmer here and there. Some motion break up can be seen as the camera pans across the rooftops at 96:01, but otherwise no other 3:2 pulldowns were detected.
Since this movie is spoken in Japanese, subtitles are critical to understanding the movie, since most of us probably won't speak the language. It is interesting to note therefore that the subtitles are easy to read but are extremely brief as to the spoken word. There appears to be a lot more said than read, in effect. Whether this is as a result of English being a more concise language than Japanese or the fact that the author of the subtitles simply eliminated any extraneous comments is hard to determine. For anyone that has had the pleasure of seeing something like Monty Python and the Holy Grail with the Japanese overdub and English subtitles performing an EXACT translation, you might understand why they chose brevity over completeness.
Although listed as being at 71:25, no layer change was detected by this reviewer and the mark was determined using IFOedit. If there was a change at this point (which coincides with a chapter change), it is brilliantly done.
Officially, the soundtrack on this disc is listed as L-C-R-S (left/centre/right/surround), but if you own a processor that takes the bass and pumps it out through the subwoofer in preference to using the other speakers, then you'll actually get some half decent activity from the .1 channel. I guess, as in so many cases, older movies transferred to DVD don't have quite the same oomph in the sound department that more recent movies have. There simply doesn't seem to be enough sound to go around and what there is is separated too thinly. Personally, the soundtrack is adequate but only occasionally gets above the mundane in terms of power and output, but there is certainly nice separation across the fronts for a full stereo work-up. The track is in Dolby Digital 4.0 with a kilobit rating of 384 kilobits per second, but like I said previously, it does sound stretched and a little thin at times.
The dialogue is all in Japanese and since I don't speak the language I have no idea if they were muttering or speaking articulately. I will assume the latter, though. Syncing was impossible, since like so many Japanese movies there is a lot of grunting and little lip movement, making it doubly hard to work out just who is saying what at the best of times. Still, you'll probably be concentrating on the subtitles so this won't be much of an issue.
The music was composed by Shinichiro Ikebe and performed by the New Japan Philharmonic, conducted by Kolaro Saito. Not being a huge fan of traditional Japanese music or knowing too much about it, I will assume an excellent integration with the on-screen action (as it sounded fine to my philistine ears).
The surround channels simply don't have enough volume to make them highly effective. There is some enveloping with the music and some redirection that causes them to be noticed, but otherwise there is a sense they are there but they are a relatively passive presence throughout the movie.
Occasionally my subwoofer got a bit of a workout, although this is more of an unintended result of the processor pushing the signal through the LFE. Still, the odd moment of deep bass rumbling can never be a bad thing and at 16:35 and again at 48:34 are two prime examples, with the best saved until last at 142:28. Overall, though, there is little for the .1 channel to do and it is basically a passenger.
|Surround Channel Use|
NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.
There is no Region 1 release of this disc at this time. The DVD has been released in other regions (R2 for instance) and it would seem that in all cases it is precisely the same - a bare-bones movie with no extras.
A classy movie (but not a classic) from one of the great directors of the 20th century. The DVD is visually flawed from what looks like lack of decent source material (and hence its transfer is only average) with a reasonable soundtrack accompanying it. There are no extras of note.
|DVD||Sony NS-305, using RGB output|
|Display||Loewe Xelos (81cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Rotel RSP-976. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Amplification||Rotel RB 985 MkII|
|Speakers||JBL TLX16s Front Speakers, Polk Audio LS fx di/bipole Rear Speakers, Polk Audio CS350-LS Centre Speaker, M&KV-75 Subwoofer|