When I was a kid, I was always curious about Kagemusha because of the VHS box art. It was a silhouette of the battle armor, giving it a real eerie feel about it. Like it was a sequel or remake of Night of the Demon. Later, I learned it was not a supernatural samurai movie. I started getting into Kurosawa about the same time I discovered aspect ratios and laserdiscs and I never got around to seeing much… Most Kurosawa discs were Criterion and expensive or Fox and expensive. I actually just came across my laserdisc copy of Kagemusha, still in shrink-wrap, which I got on remainder.
It’s an incredibly impersonal film. IMDb confirmed it’s based on historical events, which explains why much of it feels like a history lesson. It’s a long two hours and forty minutes too, but I don’t think anything could actually go. Actually, I think the film would probably benefit from more. There are a handful of human relationships that work in the film–most of them since there are so few–and there are a lot of moments that work. But these moments often interrupt expository scenes and lecture moments.
Kagemusha is still a good film, it’s just not very deep. It was apparent, an hour in, the film could only end one way (and it did). But this realization made the next hour and a half a little labored… Just because we know it can only end one way doesn’t mean the film should treat us like we know it. There’s also an attempt at commentary on warfare that pops up in the third act and, while it could start a different film, it certainly doesn’t rightly end this one. But, it’s still good… it’s just not exciting (it’s no Night of the Demon, for instance).