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Thursday, May 22, 2008

KAGEMUSHA (1980)

Akira Kurosawa became something of an untouchable in the last third of his career, and like so many elder statesmen, something of a philosophical windbag, chasing banalities as if they were new discoveries. (It's happening to Francis Coppola as we speak.) The fawning attitudes of so many critics, to say nothing of Lucas, Spielberg, Coppola & Scorsese (and Richard Gere!) only helped to bury his best work (post-WWII up thru the early ‘60s). But in KAGEMUSHA and in his human-scaled final work, MADADAYO (unreleased here), he comes within shouting distance of his better self. Basically a simple story about a warlord who uses a double to gain an extra three years of posthumous control, the grand scale, color coding and restraint in what is & what is not shown, all come together impressively until Kurosawa overreaches at the end. Plus, some comic touches (a scene with the lord’s mistresses is right out of a Bob Hope movie) allow more than a respectful/awe-filled response so you don’t start feeling like you’re on a cultural field trip. Terrible music, as always.

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