Last updated
Theatrical poster
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Produced by
Screenplay by
  • Akira Kurosawa
  • Masato Ide
Starring Tatsuya Nakadai
Music by Shin'ichirō Ikebe
Edited byAkira Kurosawa (uncredited) [1]
Distributed by
Release date
  • April 26, 1980 (1980-04-26)(Japan)
Running time
180 minutes
  • Japan
Box office$33 million (est.)

Kagemusha (影武者, Shadow Warrior) is a 1980 jidaigeki film directed by Akira Kurosawa. Kagemusha is the Japanese term for a political decoy, literally meaning "shadow warrior". It is set in the Sengoku period of Japanese history and tells the story of a lower-class criminal who is taught to impersonate a dying daimyō to dissuade opposing lords from attacking the newly vulnerable clan. The daimyō is based on Takeda Shingen, and the film ends with the climactic 1575 Battle of Nagashino. [5]


The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1980 Cannes Film Festival (tied with All That Jazz ). It was also nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film and received other honours.


In Japan's Sengoku period, Takeda Shingen, daimyō of the Takeda clan, meets with his brother Nobukado, and an unnamed thief whom the latter met by chance and spared from crucifixion due to the thief's uncanny resemblance to Shingen. The brothers then agree that he would prove useful as a double, and they decide to use the thief as a kagemusha, a political decoy. Later, Shingen's army has besieged a castle of Tokugawa Ieyasu. One evening when Shingen visits the battlefield he is shot by a sniper who has mapped Shingen's previous movements in the camp. Mortally wounded, he orders a withdrawal and commands his generals to keep his death a secret for three years. Shingen soon dies with only a small group of witnesses. Meanwhile, Shingen's rivals Oda Nobunaga, Tokugawa Ieyasu, and Uesugi Kenshin each contemplate the consequences of Shingen's withdrawal of his army still not knowing of his death.

Nobukado presents the thief to Shingen's generals, proposing to have this kagemusha impersonate Shingen full-time. At first, even the thief is unaware of Shingen's death, until he tries to break into a huge jar, believing it to contain treasure, and instead finds Shingen's preserved corpse. The generals then decide they cannot trust the thief and set him free. Later, the Takeda leaders secretly drop the jar with Shingen's corpse into Lake Suwa. Spies working for Tokugawa and his ally Oda witness the disposal of the jar and, suspecting that Shingen has died, go to report the death. The thief, however, overhearing the spies, goes to offer his services, hoping to be of some use to Shingen in death. The Takeda clan preserves the deception by announcing that they were making an offering of sake to the god of the lake. The spies follow the Takeda army as they march home from the siege. Although they suspect that Shingen has died, they are later convinced by the kagemusha's performance.

Returning home, the kagemusha successfully fools Shingen's retinue. By imitating Shingen's gestures and learning more about him, the kagemusha begins to uncannily mimic the persona of Shingen, and even convinces Takeda Katsuyori's son and Shingen's grandson, who was very close with Shingen. When the kagemusha must preside over a clan council to plan how to respond to provocative attacks made by Tokugawa against Takeda border castles, he is instructed by Nobukado to not speak until Nobukado brings the generals to a consensus, whereupon the kagemusha will simply agree with the generals' plan and dismiss the council. However, Katsuyori is incensed by his father's decree of the three year subterfuge, which delays his inheritance and leadership of the clan. Katsuyori thus decides to test the kagemusha in front of the council, as the majority of the attendants are not aware that Shingen is dead. Katsuyori directly asks the kagemusha what course of action the "lord thinks" should be taken. After a long pause, the kagemusha replies, "A mountain does not move," convincingly in Shingen's own manner. The kagemusha's effective improvisation further impresses the generals.

Soon, in 1573, Oda Nobunaga is mobilizing his forces to attack Azai Nagamasa, continuing his campaign in central Honshu to maintain his control of Kyoto against the growing opposition. When the Tokugawa and Oda clans launch an attack on Takeda territory, Katsuyori begins a counter-offensive against the advice of other generals. The kagemusha is forced to lead reinforcements to the 1574 Battle of Takatenjin, and helps inspire the troops to victory. In a fit of overconfidence, the kagemusha attempts to ride Shingen's spirited horse. When he falls off, those who rush to help him see that he does not have their lord's battle scars, and he is revealed as an impostor. The thief is driven out of the palace in disgrace, and Katsuyori takes over the clan. Oda and Tokugawa, sensing weakness in the Takeda clan leadership, are emboldened to begin a full-scale offensive into the Takeda homeland.

Now in full control of the Takeda army, Katsuyori leads the counter-offensive against Nobunaga, resulting in the Battle of Nagashino. Although courageous in their assault, wave after wave of attacking Takeda cavalry and infantry are cut down by volleys of tanegashima fire from Oda troops deployed behind wooden stockades, effectively eliminating the Takeda army. The exiled kagemusha, who has followed the Takeda army, is dismayed and in a final show of loyalty, he takes up a spear and makes a hopeless charge against the Oda lines. Mortally wounded, the kagemusha attempts futilely to retrieve the fūrinkazan banner, which had fallen into a river, but succumbs to his wounds in the water. His body floats past it as the film concludes with a long shot of the abandoned fūrinkazan.


Kurosawa's own artwork KAGEMUSHA 2.JPG
Kurosawa's own artwork

George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola are credited at the end of the film as executive producers in the international version. This is because they persuaded 20th Century Fox to make up a shortfall in the film's budget when the original producers, Toho Studios, could not afford to complete the film. In return, 20th Century Fox received the international distribution rights to the film.

Kurosawa originally cast the actor Shintaro Katsu in the title role. Katsu left the production, however, before the first day of shooting was over; in an interview for the Criterion Collection DVD, executive producer Coppola states that Katsu angered Kurosawa by arriving with his own camera crew to record Kurosawa's filmmaking methods. It is unclear whether Katsu was fired or left of his own accord, but he was replaced by Tatsuya Nakadai, a well-known actor who had appeared in a number of Kurosawa's previous films. Nakadai played both the kagemusha and the lord whom he impersonated.

Kurosawa wrote a part in Kagemusha for his longtime regular actor Takashi Shimura, and Kagemusha was the last Kurosawa film in which Shimura appeared. However, the scene in which he plays a servant who accompanies a western doctor to a meeting with Shingen was cut from the foreign release of the film. The Criterion Collection DVD release of the film restored this scene as well as approximately another eighteen minutes in the film.

According to Lucas, Kurosawa used 5,000 extras for the final battle sequence, filming for a whole day, then he cut it down to 90 seconds in the final release. Many beautiful special effects, and a number of scenes that filled holes in the story, landed on the "cutting-room floor".



Kagemusha was released theatrically in Japan on April 26, 1980, where it was distributed by Toho. [2] It was released in the United States theatrically in October 6, 1980, where it was distributed by Twentieth Century Fox. [2] The theatrical version in the United States had a 162-minute running time. [2] It was released on home video in the United States with a 180-minute running time in 2005. [2]

Box office

Kagemusha was the number one Japanese film on the domestic market in 1980, earning ¥2.7 billion in distribution rental income. [6] The film grossed a total of ¥5.5 billion ($26 million) in Japanese box office gross receipts. [7]

Overseas, the film grossed $4 million in the United States. [4] In France, where it released on 1 October 1980, the film sold 904,627 tickets, [8] equivalent to an estimated gross revenue of approximately €2,442,500 [9] ($3,322,800). [10] This brings the film's total estimated worldwide gross to approximately $33,322,800.


Kagemusha won numerous honours in Japan and abroad, marking the beginning of Kurosawa's most successful decade in international awards, the 1980s. [11] At the 1980 Cannes Film Festival, Kagemusha shared the Palme d'Or with All That Jazz . [12] Kagemusha was nominated for two Academy Awards: (Best Art Direction (Yoshirō Muraki) and Best Foreign Language Film). [13] [14]

AwardDate of ceremonyCategoryRecipient(s)ResultRef(s)
Academy Awards March 31, 1981 Best Foreign Language Film Akira Kurosawa Nominated [13]
Best Art Direction Yoshirō Muraki Nominated
British Academy Film Awards 1981 Best Film Akira Kurosawa, Tomoyuki Tanaka Nominated [15]
Best Direction Akira KurosawaWon
Best Cinematography Takao Saitô, Shôji UedaNominated
Best Costume Design Seiichiro MomosawaWon
Cannes Film Festival May 9 – 23, 1980 Palme d'Or Akira KurosawaWon [12]
César Awards January 31, 1981 Best Foreign Film Akira KurosawaWon [16]
David di Donatello September 26, 1981Best Foreign DirectorAkira KurosawaWon [17]
Best Foreign Producer Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas Won
Golden Globe Awards January 31, 1981 Best Foreign Language Film Akira KurosawaNominated [18]
Mainichi Film Awards 1980 Best Film Akira KurosawaWon [19]
Best Director Akira KurosawaWon
Best Actor Tatsuya Nakadai Won
Best Art Direction Yoshirô MurakiWon
Best Music Shin'ichirō Ikebe Won
National Board of Review January 26, 1981 Top Foreign FilmsAkira KurosawaWon [20]

In 2016, The Hollywood Reporter ranked the film 10th among 69 counted winners of the Palme d'Or to date, concluding "Set against the wars of 16th-century Japan, Kurosawa’s majestic samurai epic is still awe-inspiring, not only in its historical pageantry, but for imagery that communicates complex ideas about reality, belief and meaning." [21]

See also

Related Research Articles

Oda Nobunaga 16th-century Japanese samurai and warlord

Oda Nobunaga was a Japanese daimyo and one of the leading figures of the Sengoku period. He is regarded as the first "Great Unifier" of Japan. His reputation in war gave him the nick of "Demon Daimyo" or "Devil King".

Takeda Shingen 16th-century Japanese daimyo of the Sengoku period

Takeda Shingen, of Kai Province, was a pre-eminent daimyō in feudal Japan. Known as the "Tiger of Kai", he was one of the most powerful daimyōs with exceptional military prestige in the late stage of the Sengoku period. Shingen had been a 'Warlord' of great domestic skill and competent military leadership.

Uesugi Kenshin Japanese daimyo

Uesugi Kenshin was a daimyō who was born as Nagao Kagetora of the Nagao clan, and after adoption into the Uesugi clan, ruled Echigo Province in the Sengoku period of Japan. He was one of the most powerful daimyōs of the Sengoku period. Known as the "Dragon of Echigo", while chiefly remembered for his prowess on the battlefield, Kenshin is also regarded as an extremely skillful administrator who fostered the growth of local industries and trade and his rule saw a marked rise in the standard of living of Echigo.

Akiyama Nobutomo

Akiyama Nobutomo was a samurai during the Sengoku period in Japan. He is known as one of the "Twenty-Four Generals of Takeda Shingen". Nobutomo also served under Shingen's son, Takeda Katsuyori.

Battle of Nagashino

The Battle of Nagashino took place in 1575 near Nagashino Castle on the plain of Shitarabara in the Mikawa Province of Japan. Takeda Katsuyori attacked the castle when Okudaira Sadamasa rejoined the Tokugawa, and when his original plot with Oga Yashiro for taking Okazaki Castle, the capital of Mikawa, was discovered.

Okudaira Nobumasa

Okudaira Nobumasa was a Japanese daimyō of the Sengoku and early Edo periods. Nobumasa's family considered their origins to have been associated with Mikawa Province. The clan was descended through the Akamatsu from the Murakami-Genji.

Sanada Masayuki

Sanada Masayuki was a Japanese Sengoku period lord and daimyō. He was the head of Sanada clan, a regional house of Shinano Province, which became a vassal of the Takeda clan of Kai Province.

Takeda Katsuyori

Takeda Katsuyori was a Japanese daimyō of the Sengoku period, who was famed as the head of the Takeda clan and the successor to the legendary warlord Takeda Shingen.

Takeda Nobutora

Takeda Nobutora was a Japanese daimyō who controlled the Province of Kai, and fought in a number of battles of the Sengoku period. He was the father of the famous Takeda Shingen,

Oda Nobutada 16th-century Japanese samurai, son of Oda Nobunaga

Oda Nobutada was a samurai and the eldest son of Oda Nobunaga, who fought in many battles during the Sengoku period of Japan. He commanded armies under his father in battles against Matsunaga Hisahide and against the Takeda clan.

Takeda Nobukado

Takeda Nobukado was a Japanese samurai warrior of the Sengoku period. He was known as one of the "Twenty-Four Generals of Takeda Shingen"; and brother of Takeda Shingen.

Kōsaka Masanobu

Kōsaka Masanobu also known as Kasuga Toratsuna was a Japanese samurai warrior of the Sengoku period. He was known as one of the "Twenty-Four Generals of Takeda Shingen". He is often credited as the original author of Kōyō Gunkan, which records the history of the Takeda family and their military tactics.

Twenty-Four Generals of Takeda Shingen

The Twenty-Four Generals were just one of many historically famous groupings of battle commanders from Japan's Sengoku Period. These Twenty-Four were the most trusted companions of Takeda Shingen. A third of them died at the famous Battle of Nagashino in 1575 when they led the Takeda forces against Oda Nobunaga. When Takeda Katsuyori committed suicide in 1582, declaring the end of the Takeda clan, only three of them were still serving under the Takeda.

Takeda clan Japanese clan

The Takeda Clan was a Japanese clan active from the late Heian period until the late 16th century. The clan was historically based in Kai Province in present-day Yamanashi Prefecture. The clan reached its greatest influence under the rule of Takeda Shingen, one of the most famous rulers of the period.

Yamagata Masakage

Yamagata Masakage was a Japanese samurai warrior of the Sengoku period. He is known as one of the "Twenty-Four Generals of Takeda Shingen". He was famous for his red armour and skill in battlefield, and was a personal friend of Takeda Shingen. He was the younger brother of Obu Toramasa who was also a retainer of Shingen leading the famous "red fire unit".

Oyamada Nobushige

Oyamada Nobushige was a Japanese samurai general in the Takeda army under Takeda Shingen, and later under Takeda Katsuyori. He was known as one of the "Twenty-Four Generals of Takeda Shingen".

Nishina Morinobu was a retainer of the Japanese samurai clan of Takeda during the closing years of the Sengoku period. Born the fifth son of the legendary Takeda Shingen, he was also known as Takeda Harukiyo (武田晴清). In 1561 Morinobu was adopted into the Nishina clan of Shinano Province as part of Shingen's plan to cement his control over the province.

Takeda Nobuzane (武田信実) more commonly known as Kawakubo Nobuzane was a younger half-brother of Takeda Shingen, a preeminent daimyō who vied for the control of Japan in the late stage of Sengoku, the "warring states" period. He was also called Kawakubo Nobuzane because he was raised in Kawakubo village.


Rikei was a Japanese noble lady, calligrapher, poet and scholar. She was the eldest daughter of Katsunuma Nobutomo, a samurai of the Sengoku period. She lived as a nun on Daizen-ji temple at Mount Kashiwao and is most notable for her military history, Rikei-ni no Ki, or "Nun Rikei’s Account."

Takeda Shingen (武田信玄) is a 1988 Japanese historical television series. It is the 26th NHK Taiga drama.


  1. Ritchie, Donald (1998). The Films of Akira Kurosawa (3 ed.). University of California Press. p. 238. ISBN   978-0-520-22037-9.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 Galbraith IV 2008, p. 322.
  3. Aubrey Solomon, Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History, Scarecrow Press, 1989 p259
  4. 1 2 Kagemusha at Box Office Mojo
  5. Rayns, Tony (2006). Talking with the Director. Criterion Collection. Criterion Collection. p. 13.
  6. "Kako haikyū shūnyū jōi sakuhin 1980-nen" (in Japanese). Motion Picture Producers Association of Japan. Retrieved 4 February 2011.
  7. "Kagemusha". Toho Kingdom. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  8. "Kagemusha (1980)". JP's Box-Office. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  9. "Cinema market". Cinema, TV and radio in the EU: Statistics on audiovisual services (Data 1980-2002). Europa (2003 ed.). Office for Official Publications of the European Communities. 2003. pp. 31-64 (61). ISBN   92-894-5709-0. ISSN   1725-4515 . Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  10. "Historical currency converter with official exchange rates from 1953". fxtop.com. 1 October 1980. Retrieved 23 May 2020.
  11. Wild 2014, p. 165.
  12. 1 2 "Festival de Cannes: Kagemusha". festival-cannes.com. Retrieved 2009-05-27.
  13. 1 2 "The 53rd Academy Awards (1981) Nominees and Winners". oscars.org. Retrieved 2013-06-08.
  14. "NY Times: Kagemusha". Movies & TV Dept. The New York Times . 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-10-18. Retrieved 2008-12-31.
  15. "Film in 1981". British Academy of Film and Television Arts . Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  16. "Prix et nominations : César 1981". AlloCiné . Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  17. "Cronologia Dei Premi David Di Donatello". David di Donatello . Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  18. "Kagemusha (The Shadow Warrior)". Hollywood Foreign Press Association . Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  19. "35th (1980)". Mainichi Film Awards. 2016. Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  20. "1980 Award Winners". National Board of Review of Motion Pictures. 2016. Retrieved 2 December 2016.
  21. THR Staff (10 May 2016). "Cannes: All the Palme d'Or Winners, Ranked". The Hollywood Reporter . Retrieved 20 September 2016.