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If there is one person I can respect, it’s a talented filmmaker, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that. Upon critiquing such films that have earned themselves worldwide acclaim, I’ll sometimes feel uncomfortable offering an absolutely honest judgement on these respected films that I just can’t bring my self to appreciate. In the case of the Academy Award Nominated Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior, eminent Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa was considered to have danced back onto the screen with a vengeance, treating global audiences to a historical samurai feast that glistened with darkness, mysticism and heroism. Although applauded by many, I could not endure this extremely long, epic tale that just seemed like another history lesson. Although I’m not intrigued by it, I do recongise the talent of the visionary director who introduced audiences to the transcending dreams of samurai on a global scale.

Set amidst a stunning, panoramic portrayal of sixteenth century Japan, a raging battle of glory is taking its place between three honorable warlords and their artilleries, all in combat for the land’s sacred capital, Kyoto. In the savage course of this bloodthirsty conquest, the beautiful plains of Japan’s spiritual floors become torn and disposed in this somewhat messily illustrated rat race.

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

Kagemusha treads on familiar cinematic grounds, such as the glorious Rocky did in 1979, attempting to transform an insignificant underdog into an accredited hero who (most importantly) has acquired the power to establish some form of positive self-realisation. In Kagemusha’s case, the story doesn’t limit itself to, but concentrates on, a “no body” thief (Tatsuya Nakadai), who is rescued from crucifixion because of his remarkable resemblance to Shingen Takeda (also played by Tatsuya Nakadai), the most powerful warlord of the trio of rivalries. When a bullet gets the better of Shingen, it’s up to this trifling decoy to assume the position of the land’s most reputable leader.

Progressively through the course of his life-changing experience, the “shadow warrior” slowly succumbs to the qualities of his leader, and eventually overrules the effectiveness of such an important predecessor. In addition to the raging battles and heroic feats, there is a story here; one that explores the qualities of a leader; and one that explores yet another form of deceptiveness between father and son.  I can appreciate the fact that Kurosawa has allowed space for his (attempted) legendary story and hasn’t contaminated his feature with prolonged scenes of unnecessary combat (disappointingly, Ridley Scott managed to pull this one off in Black Hawk Down).

The beginning of the film is what I can say, the best part of it. We come to understand the conflicting barriers between the violent differences in social status, and the opening scene illustrates this beautifully. It’s just a shame that the story sends itself down hill from that point forward. I’m not too sure what Kurosawa’s intentions were here, as his vision is extremely abstract and considerably cryptic, but I can say that the film’s duration, in excess of two and a half hours, is simply unbearable. Noticeably, the duration of epic legends usually exceed that of a usual Hollywood film, however, if Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon could pull it off in less than two hours, why couldn’t this?

Rather than concentrating on cinematic formula, I think Kurosawa has devoted himself to Japanese history. He hasn’t challenged it, but he’s certainly found some form of salvation within it and this is unquestionably detectable. We get to know the main protagonist quite intimately, which always aids the structure of a legendary story. Kurosawa’s direction is certainly commendable, and audiences can probably expect this with the resume that he has earned himself throughout his contribution to world cinema.

In order to appreciate Kagemusha, extreme patience is required. Compliments of the film’s neglected editing, people such as myself will undoubtedly find this film extremely difficult to endure.

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

Its evident that Akira Kurosawa is a predominately visual director. The film’s spectacular panorama and precise detail act as a cradle for this story, ultimately serving as one of the film’s most important attributes. Unfortunately, the film’s disappointing transfer is victim to the film’s age, presenting itself as a markedly polluted one. It is evident from the beginning that you can expect a constantly affected transfer, littered with consistent grain and shadow that significantly overrule a generous amount of the film’s prized detail. At just over two and-a-half hours, we can expect a generous amount of scenes to take place in darkness, and obviously, these scenes are the most affected ones of the batch. Unfortunately, I can’t say much for the colour palette either, which fails to withhold vibrancy and definition throughout the entire presentation. Fortunately, the film is presented in its original widescreen aspect at a 1.85:1 ratio that is (luckily) anamorphic.

The 4.0 Japanese surround treatment included here is considerably more comfortable than a bleak mono or two-channel option, and effectively uses the available channels to create a surprisingly realistic atmosphere. Dialogue is usually quite clear, and the intense battles are aided by this acceptable soundtrack option. The temperate channel separation delivers the better part of the dialogue through the centre speaker, balanced by additional effects and the accompanying score that stream from the right and left speakers. The surround here is marginally effective, with background effects just managing to drift from the rear speakers. At times the sound may seem particularly washed and faded, but considering the film’s age, we can deem this understandable.

There are no extras included in this package, which is unfortunate for fans of the film who probably would have sought after a retrospective documentary at the very least.

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior

Kagemusha: The Shadow Warrior presents itself as a majestic and superior artwork to its trail of cult followers. However, there doesn’t seem to be anything on offer to the wider scope of filmgoers who don’t seek fulfillment within this limited genre. The presentation itself is elementary at best, only appealing to true fans of the film.