Kagemusha (1980)





Director:     Akira Kurosawa

Starring:     Tatsuya Nakadai (Shingen Takeda / Kagemusha), Tsutomu Yamazaki (Nobukado Takeda), Ken'ichi Hagiwara (Katsuyori Takeda), Jinpachi Nezu (Sohachiro Tsuchiya), Hideji taki (Masakage Yamagata), Daisuke Ry (Nobunaga Oda), Masayuki Yui (Ieyasu Tokugawa), Kaori Momoi (Otsuyanokata), Mitsuko Baish (Oyunokata), Hideo Murota (Nobufusa Baba), Takayuki Shiho (Masatoyo Naito), Kji Shimizu (Katsusuke Atobe), Noboru Shimizu (Masatane Hara), Sen Yamamoto (Nobushige Oyamada), Shuhei Sugimori (Masanobu Kosaka).

Set in the late 16th century, the Warring States era, the film deals with the end of the feudal period in Japan, centering on the Takeda clan, one of three warlord clans battling for control of Japan.  Based partly on the 1575 Battle of Nagashino. 


Spoiler Warning:  below is a summary of the entire movie. 

Fifty-three year old Takeda Shingen, warlord of the Takeda clan, speaks with his brother Nobukado about using a man as a body double.  The man sits off to Lord Shingen's left.  The brothers discuss the man.  He was to be executed (crucified actually).  He is a thief and may even have killed someone.  Moreover, he is just a drifter from the North.  As Shingen goes over all the man's sins, the thief gets angry and argues that how can the warlord speak of his crimes when Shingen is guilty of the death of thousands of people.  Amazingly, Shingen does not get angry.  Rather he admits his guilt.  He banished his father and killed his own son.  And now war is everywhere.  The brothers agree that the man might come in handy.  Shingen leaves complaining of an old wound that still hurts when it is cold.  (The war lord has a nasty scar from the wound.)

Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior)

1573.  A messenger runs through the trenches filled with resting soldiers.  His speed shocks a lot of the troops and they rise in turn as he passes.  The messenger tells the Takeda inner circle of powerful men:  "We've cut off the water entering the castle."  The feeling in the group is that now the castle is sure to fall.  They've held out for twenty day already. 

From the inner circle the elderly Maskage Yamagata goes to see Lord Shingen.  He asks the warlord if he is feeling well, and Shingens says "no".  Asakura is returning to his fiefdom.  He says that his men are weary.  If Asakura retreats, Oda Nobunaga will reinforce his ally Tokugawa Ieyasu, who will in turn block Shingen's path.  Shingen says that Asakura's retreat is treason.  The elderly man tells Shingen of the news that they have cut the aqueduct to the castle. 

Takeda troops are waiting for the next round of fighting.

News comes into Tokugawa Ieyasu that Lord Shingen has been badly wounded by a Tokugawa sniper.  But Ieyasu wonders if the man is dead or not.  He thinks back to the time that Shingen beat him at the battle of Mikata.  But now if Shingen is dead, Ieyasu could march on to Kyoto, the capital.  So Ieyasu tells his spies that they must find out for sure about Lord Shingen. 

The Takeda troops are on the move.  There is talk that they will be retreating.  But why retreat now, since they have already taken the castle?  And there is a rumor that Lord Shinen is dead.  But then suddenly a soldier tells the men to look behind them.  Lord Shingen approaches on horseback with more troops behind him.  (But it's more likely to be the body double than the real Lord Shingen or is it?)

Tokugawa Ieyasu speaks with the sniper who is said to have wounded Lord Shingen.  The sniper gives Ieyasu a demonstration of how he was able to shoot Shingen from such a long distance.  The sniper fires his rifle and snaps the head off of a small young pine tree.  But Ieyasu is still not sure.  This could all be a Takeda ruse to fool him and his ally Oda Nobunaga.

They are transporting Lord Shingen in a small black box.  The elderly Takeda adviser Maskage Yamagata opens the box and Lord Shingen slowly emerges.  He appears to be out of his head.  He thinks he see Kyoto, his dream destination, in the distance.  But when a physician arrives to check on Shingen, the warlord is now dead. 

Takeda's troops on horseback present a marvelous spectacle as they ride their horses in formation carrying red, green and black banners to denote their various units.  The problem now for the Takeda clan is to keep Lord Shingen's death a secret.  Maskage Yamagata tells the other important men that he took care of all those who might talk about the warlord's death.  But there are Nobunaga and Ieyasu spies out checking on the matter.  The Takeda inner circle agrees to make use of the body double.

Three enemy spies watch the Takeda troop movements.  Before the troops, appears Lord Shingen (actually the body double).  The fellow gets a bit carried away with himself and makes a marvelous fast gallop across the front of all the troops in formation.  (Luckily for the inner circle, when the body double falls off his horse, the horse has already passed by all the troops.)

Oda Nobunaga shouts "Impossible."  Lord Shingen has pulled his troops back so abruptly following his victories that the warlord must be dead or wounded as the rumors say.  Otherwise, Shingen would have surrounded them by now. 

The body double is curious about the fate of Lord Shingen.  He goes to a lot of trouble to open up the front of a huge jug.  The body doubles sees Lord Shingen's face and body inside.  He gets so spooked that he jumps backward dropping one of his tools into a large container that rings out loudly when the tool lands.  This brings in the guards who immediately tie up the body double.  When the body double is scolded for his behavior he replies that he can't play the role of Lord Shingen all the time.  It is too tiring. 

The Takeda row the huge jug out into Lake Suwa and drop it in.  This is as Lord Shingen wanted.  The body double watches the ceremony.  Then he notices the three enemy spies.  After the spies leave, the body double tells the Takeda men about the spies.  The secret is out!  The men dismiss his concerns saying that they will tell their own troops anyway. But the spies are fooled believing the rumor that the huge jar only contained sake (rice wine). 

At the celebration of the Takeda victory, the three spies watch the performance and see the body double.  They believe that Lord Shingen is still alive. 

The body double is taken to see his grandson, Takemaru.  He first has to visit the various halls in the complex in a kind of ritual coming home ceremony.  But when the body double meets the child, the kid says:  "He's not my grandfather."  The advisers quickly chime in that grandfather has changed a lot since he was away fighting.  The tension is obvious among the advisers and the body double.  Then the grandson says:  "It's true.  He has changed.  He's not scary anymore."  The body double is then introduced to his personal household staff.  There are three guards kneeling in a huge wardrobe closet and two pages sitting in another huge wardrobe closet.  The warlord's brother explains to the staff and the body double that the staff will teach "manners" to the body double. 

The grandson is the son of the now Lord Katsuyori, the son of Lord Shingen.  Katsuyori is not happy about being bypassed in his father's will in favor of the grandson being the heir apparent to the position of warlord.    

Finally the body double gets to meet his many mistresses.  He gets to feel so relaxed around them and so tired of playing the role of Lord Shingen that he tells the mistresses that he is the body double.  But the women don't believe him and just start laughing at his "joke".  They think he is very funny.   Brother Nobukado tells everyone that there will be no sex with Lord Shingen at this time.  He has to rest.  The body double is obviously disappointed. 

Ieyasu is still wondering about Lord Shingen.  He doesn't understand why the warlord did not continue on to capture Kyoto.  He says that Lord Shingen would not miss such an opportunity.  So he decides to run a kind of test to find out about the real status of Lord Shingen.  He tells his men to attack the Takeda outpost in Suruga.  That way the Takeda reaction will give him a better idea if the warlord is alive or dead.  His troops attack the outpost as ordered. 

Lord Katsuyori calls for a meeting with the entire Takeda clan.  Tokugawa Ieyasu has attacked them.  They have burned Okabe Castle, surrounded Futamata Castle and fortified their position.  Lord Katsuyori is in favor of attacking Ieyasu immediately, but this position does not get much support.  So Lord Katsuyori leaves the meeting.  Many of the remaining men at the meeting say that Katsuyori acted badly.  But the body double had double-shamed Katsuyori.  Nobukado says the body double didn't really mean to insult the man.  He has too little experience in inner circle politics to know what is the true meaning of what he says.  Nobukado says he feels sorry for the body double.  At night the body double has a nightmare in which Lord Shingen comes out of the huge funerary jar to pursue him. 

Oda Nobunaga takes his troop out to fight Lord Asai.  He tells Ieyasu to attack Lord Shingen. 

A messenger arrives to tell Lord Katsuyori that Amari and Okudaira have become turn coats.  Noda and Nagashinto Castles have fallen to Ieyasu.  Lord Katsuyori goes on the attack at Takatenjin Castle.  Maskage Yamagata tells his men that this was a very rash decision on the part of Katsuyori.  Now they will have to send their troops to his defense to show that Lord Shingen supports his son.  Maskage Yamagata then says that when Ieyasu sees Lord Shingen's banner, he will stay away. 

 The banished father of Lord Shingen writes the inner circle to tell them that he is sending a man and a foreign physician to see his son.  Nobukado thinks there is someone else behind this sudden reappearance of the banished father.  He thinks his enemies have sent the letter and will send the physician.  He thinks about it and finally decides that they will let the doctor see Lord Shingen (or rather the body double).  A man named Taguchi and a Jesuit physician arrive.  After some pleasantries the physician looks at the body double who is obviously healthy.

Ieyasu falls back in his offensive.  He receives a report that Lord Shingen is in good health.  And yet both Oda Nobunaga and Ieyasu have a hunch that Lord Shingen is dead.  Oda Nobunaga  tells Ieyasu that he will be putting down a religious uprising in Ise.  And since Nobunaga was too late in coming to help Ieyasu, he gives him gold instead.  He says he will leave Taneka to Ieyasu to handle. 

Ieyasu says that about half of the three year period in which Lord Shingen would be taking a less public role has elapsed and they still don't know for sure if the man is dead or alive.  

The body double foolishly tries to ride Lord Shingen's favorite horse, who will only allow his master to ride him.  After he is thrown off the horse, the mistresses start to nurse the body double.  As they start to remove his kimono they receive a shock.  He is not Lord Shingen for where is the famous wound scar on the man's body.  Soon everyone knows about the great pretender.  The body double could fool the enemy and many of their own people, but Lord Shigen's horse could not be fooled. 

The body double is told that Lord Katsuyori is now their master.  They give the body double money to pay him for his services, but he won't take it.  They then tell the body double to leave.  But again he is very reluctant to comply.  A guard forces the body double to take the money, but he still hangs around the complex.  Finally the soldiers start to tell him to go way,.  When the body doubles says he wants to see the grandson one last time, the soldiers become righteously indignant and push him out of the complex.  They then start throwing stones at him to force him to leave. 

The now former body doubles sees the grandson partaking in a funeral ceremony for Lord Shingen.  The three enemy spies are there and they leave to inform Ieyasu and Nobunaga.  Ieyasu is amazed and disappointed because the secret was kept for the entire three years.  But now they have to face Lord Katsuyori and his 25,000 soldiers in direct battle.  A big battle is about to commence. 

Maskage Yamagata tells Katsuyori that his father advised that the Takeda should stay in their own domain and protect it.  If Lord Shingen were here he would tell his son:  "Do not proceed."  Katsuyori is not interested. 

May 21, 1575.  The former body double is hiding in the marshes between the two enemies.  Ieyau and Nobunaga's forces are well-equipped with rifles and they are positioned behind a long fence made of logs with firing space between them.  Katsuyori is going to send his men charging over the sand through an open area to smash the enemy lines.  It seems like a fool-hardy thing to do.  Maskage Yamagata says to his associates:  "This will be the end of our clan." 

Nobunaga gives the order to have the soldiers kill the horses first and then pick off the men.  Katsuyori gives the signal for the cavalry to charge.  The unit Wind charges across the field.  They are massacred before they can even reach the enemy.  Forest next attacks and suffers the same fate.  Despite these two defeats, Katsuyori sends the unit Fire into the fray.  And it is still another slaughter.  Maskage Yamagata is killed during the battle of Nagashino.  The former body double is so upset that he takes a spear and starts to attack the enemy.  He is mortally wounded by rifle fire.  The wounded man makes it to the river but dies there and the currents float his body downstream. 


This is a very famous movie.  And I liked it, especially the pageantry.  But as the commentary with the DVD says, the famous director says almost nothing about the history behind these scenes.  You have to know something about the history to really understand and appreciate the movie.  After an hour, my wife and I got discouraged and quit.  I then printed up the biographies from Wikipedia about the three main leaders:  Lord Takeda Shingen, Tokughawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga.  When I felt I knew what was going on, we re-watched the first hour and I found out where I had gone wrong in the story that left me confused.  Then we finished watching the entire movie with no more serious problems of misunderstanding.   I tried very carefully in the film summary to let the reader know exactly what was going on and who's who. 

Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.


Historical Background: 

1185 to 1333 -- the Kamakura period is counted as the beginning of the "Japanese Middle Ages". Governance by the Kamakura shogunate.

1192 -- the first Kamakura shogun Minamoto no Yoritomo establishes officially the Kamakura Shogunate.

1198-1210 -- rule of the 83rd emperor of Japan, Emperor Tsuchimikado.

1318-1339 -- rule of the 96th emperor of Japan, Emperor Go-Daigo.

1333 -- the Kamakura period ends with the destruction of the Kamakura shogunate. Imperial rule is established in what is called the Kemmu restoration under Emperor Go-Daigo through the efforts of Ashikaga Takauji, Nitta Yoshisada, and Kusunoki Masashige.

1333-1336 -- Kemmu restoration.  Emperor Go-Daigo three years attempt to re-establish imperial rule between the fall of the Kamakura shogunate and the rise of the Ashikaga shogunate.   

1336-1573 -- the Muromachi period marking the era of governance of the Ashikaga shogunate (a.k.a. the Muromachi shogunate).

1336 -- the era was established by the first Muromachi shogun Ashikaga Takauji. He seized political power from Emperor Go-Daigo, ending the Kemmu restoration. The period ended in 1573 when the 15th and last shogun Ashikaga Yoshiaki was driven out of the capital in Kyoto by Oda Nobunaga.

1336 to 1392 -- the early part of the Muromachi period known as the Nanboku-cho (or Northern and Southern Court period), as the Imperial court split in two.

early 15th century -- natural disasters (earthquakes and famines) triggered armed uprisings by farmers.

1467-1573 -- this part of the Muromachi period is also known as the Sengoku period, the "Warring States period". This part was characterized by a time of intense internal warfare. The period also saw the first contacts with the West, with the arrival of Portuguese "Nanban" traders.

The Ashikaga shogunate had failed to win the loyalty of many daimyo (war lords), especially those who lived far from Kyoto.

1467-1477 -- the Onin War (14671477). It was brought about by economic distress and disputes over shogunal succession. (It is seen as the onset of the Sengoku-jidai.) The "eastern" army of the Hosokawa family and its allies clashed with the "western" army of the Yamana. The war lasted for almost 11 years. The war then spread to outlying provinces.

As a result of the war clans such as the Takeda and the Imagawa were able to expand spheres of influence. And established war lords were sometimes overthrown by more capable subordinates, an activity referred to as gekokujo.

1493 -- one of the earliest instances of gekokujo was Hojo Soun, who rose to seize power in Izu province. The Hojo clan remained a major power in the Kanto region until its subjugation by Toyotomi Hideyoshi late in the Sengoku period.

Hosokawa was replaced by the Miyoshi, the Shiba by the Oda, and the Toki by the Saito.

1542 -- at 21 years of age, Takeda Shingen (1521-1572) of Kai Province successfully takes control of the Takeda clan. He formed an alliance between the Imagawa and the Takeda clans. Under his guidance, Takeda forces suddenly swooped down on the forces protecting Shinano Province at the battle of Sezawa and defeats them. The Takeda then expands into Shinano Province. Takeda Shingen conquered the Suwa headquarters in the siege of Kuwabara. He was then defeated at Uehara by Murakami Yoshikiyo. Takeda Shingen also lost two of his generals. But eventually Shingen was able to defeat the Murakami clan.

1543 -- a Portuguese ship, blown off its course to China, landed on Tanegashima Island, Japan. The biggest influence on Japan from the contact with westerners was the use of firearms. The fighting culminated in the Battle of Nagashino where reportedly 3,000 arquebuses (the actual number is believed to be around 2,000) cut down charging ranks of samurai.

Soon traders from Portugal, the Netherlands, England, and Spain arrive. Arriving with them were the Jesuit, Dominican, and Franciscan missionaries.

1553, 1555,1557, 1561 and 1564  --   5 major battles of the battles of Kawanakajima.  Shingen of the Takeda clan fought his rival, Uesugi Kenshin of Echigo.  Both sides lost a lot of men.  Takeda Shingen lost two of his main generals, Yamamoto Kansuke and his younger brother Takeda Nobushige.

by 1559  --  major war lord Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582) of the Owari Province eliminated all opposition within the clan and throughout Owari Province.

1560 -- Imagawa Yoshimoto gathered an army of 25,000 men and marched toward Kyoto. The Matsudaira clan of Mikawa Province was also to join Yoshimoto's forces. Oda Nobunaga could rally only 3,000 men. And his forces would have to be split to defend various forts at the border. But Oda Nobunaga launched an attack that was a complete surprise to the enemy. Yoshimoto literally lost his head in the attack.

1561 --Oda Nobunaga forged an alliance with Matsudaira Motoyasu (later Tokugawa Ieyasu), despite their decades-old hostility.

by 1564  --  Takeda Shingen completely defeats the Shinano Province. 

1564 -- Nobunaga married off his sister, Oichi, to Azai Nagamasa, a daimyo in northern Omi Province.

1567 -- in Mino Nobunaga captured Inabayama Castle and sent the head man Saito Tatsuoki into exile.

1568-1603  --  Azuchi-Momoyama period.  Oda Nobunaga and successor Toyotomi Hideyoshi impose order following the collapse of the Ashikaga shogunate, that ruled the Muromachi period. The name of the period is from Nobunaga's castle, Azuchi Castle (in today'sAzuchi, Shiga Prefecture) and Hideyoshi's castle, Momoyama Castle (also known as Fushimi Castle), in Kyoto.

1568 -- Ashikaga Yoshiaki went to Gifu (formerly Mino) to ask Nobunaga to avenge his brother's death. Yoshiaki's brother, thirteenth shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate, Yoshiteru, was killed. He asked Nobunaga to move toward Kyoto and dis-install the puppet shogun, Ashikaga Yoshihide. Nobunaga agrees and soon reaches Kyoto and drives out the Miyoshi clan. Yoshiaki was made the 15th shogun of the Ashikaga shogunate.

But the power behind the shogunate was Nobunaga. In retaliation Yoshiaki formed an anti-Nobunaga alliance with various war lords.

1570 -- At the Battle of Anegawa, Tokugawa Ieyasu joined forces with Nobunaga and defeated the combined forces of the Asakura and Azai clans.

1571 -- Nobunaga destroyed the Buddhist Enryaku-ji monastery on Mt. Hiei killing between 20,000 and 30,000 men, women and children.

1572  --  Takeda Shingen captures Futamata from Tokugawa Ieyasu's forces. 

1572 -- Ieyasu is defeated at the Battle of Mikatagahara at the hands of Takeda Shingen, one of the strongest rulers in the anti-Nobunaga alliance.  Shingen was able to enter Mikawa Province but soon died of illness.

1573 -- Shingen dies from illness and the Takeda forces retreat.

1573 -- Nobunaga defeats Yoshiaki's weak forces and send him into exile. This brings the Ashikaga shogunate to an end.

1574 -- now the only threat to Nobunaga was the Takeda clan.

1575 -- Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu virtually destroyed the Takeda clan at the Battle of Nagashino. The battle took place at Nagashino Castle in the Mikawa province. The castle was attacked by the Takeda clan under Takeda Katsuyori because it threatened Takeda's supply lines. Tokugawa vassal Okudaira Sadamasa commanded the defending force. Victory was brought with the use of 3 alternating lines of men using arquebuses. The bullets pierced through the Takeda armor. This caused chaos to spread among the Takeda cavalry.

1580 -- Nobunaga forces the Ishiyama Hongan-ji to surrender.

1582 -- Nobunaga destroys the Takeda clan.

1582 -- heading for the Chugoku region, Nobunaga stayed at Honno-ji, a temple in Kyoto. Since he was in his home territory he only had with him a few dozen personal servants and bodyguards. Akechi Mitsuhide launched a coup d'tat at this time. Nobunaga lost and had to commit seppuku (suicide).

Toyotomi Hideyoshi and Tokugawa Ieyasu were able to follow up on Nobunaga's accomplishments to found the Tokugawa Shogunate.

1603-1868  --  Tokugawa Shogunate.


Return To Main Page

Return to Home Page (Vernon Johns Society)