Akira Kurosawa has made this a sweeping epic of the times of clan wars in 16th-century Japan as well as etched particular lives of men involved in the decisions that brought turmoil until a victor emerged to consolidate the country.
It cost $6 million, not much by Hollywood standards but immense in Japan. The money is there on the screen with its meticulous costuming and reconstruction of an era and its battle scenes.
A clan leader, Shingen Takeda, uses doubles to take his place seated on a hill overlooking the battlefields. His younger brother, his usual double, finds a petty thief saved from execution who looks exactly like Takeda. The incredible resemblance pleased Takeda and he is taken on as a new kagemus ha.
When Takeda dies, the thief is groomed to replace him for three years, per Takeda’s last wishes. The double, tutored by the brother, gains dignity and even convinces Takeda’s family that he is the real leader.
Tatsuya Nakadai is extraordinary as the leader and his double. The majestic pace, the court intrigues, the ritual and battles give this a tragic and human stature. Kurosawa, at 70, shows himself young indeed in the impressive handling of this historical drama laced with shrewd insights into the almost Shakespearean intrigues of power.