History is replete with stories of kings leading troops into internecine wars - why go far back into time, we are seeing one such war right now ఇరాక్ లో. Balm the ego, Get the lady, Sieze the land, Get the oil reserves or whatever whim it might be, foot soldiers rush ahead at the king's orders into wars they understand very little about.
Takeda clan in 16th century Japan (not a unified country at that time) went into one such war, and in an outcome that's not completely explained by historical records - almost all of its soldiers were wiped out while inflicting minimal damage on their opponents. It seems historians do not have a good explanation of how this came about. Kurosawa gives us his take in Kagemusha, The Shadow Warrior
Kurosawa was a great painter. When funding for Kagemusha dried up stopping him from translating his story onto silver screen, he directed his creative energies onto a canvass. The story of Kagemusha was first born in a series of paintings - only later when George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola provided him the financial support did those paintings translate into a motion picture. Naturally, the setting of the movie is very colorful, vibrant and many scenes resemble beautiful paintings. Criterion Collection DVD comes with a booklet that has Kurosawa's paintings also. You can see how wonderfully they have made transition onto a marquee.
Tatsyua Nakadai plays 2 roles in this movie, one of Shingen - a powerful warlord, who is admired by friends and foes alike; and the other of a wayward thief, his look alike. Takashi Shimura appears in a small role that Kurosawa especially wrote for him.
Under Shingen's able leadership Takeda clan becomes a formidable force; Shingen's presence is a mountainous support to his troops - enemies frequently leave the battlefield when they see him prepped for a fight. In one enemy siege Shingen is mortally wounded by a sniper-shot; He asks the generals to keep his death a secret for 3 years, till the time his grandson can take over as the head of Takeda clan. The generals and Shingen's brother prop the look alike on Takeda's throne.They manage to fool Shingen's courtiers, mistresses and soldiers after some humorous missteps initially. In the meantime, Shingen's opponents make all efforts to find out the truth - this sparring involving Nobunaga's spies, who leave no stone unturned in their quest for truth, makes for a very interesting viewing.
Then there is a complication - Shingen's son Katsuyori is sore at being sidelined and having to call a lowly thief his father. He also harbors ill-will against his father for naming his son the heir; and so he waits for an opportunity to prove that he is upto the job as clan head. He gets that eventually, when The Shadow warrior 'who hadn't mounted Shingen's horse or any mistress for the fear being caught' tries to tame the horse. His fall reveals the secret, and in a very poignant scene,he is driven out of the castle in pouring rain.
Soon after that, Katsuyori goes against the wishes of his generals, ignores bad portents and takes his fearsome army to war against Nobunaga. The rest is history.
The movie is of epical proportions, in lavishly mounted war scenes, finely costumed characters, and grand sets and much symbolism. But in all this granduer, there is a touching story of the Kagemusha. Its to director's credit that this 3 hour movie holds ones interest through out. Also, I think the directorial self-indulgence you see in a couple of scenes - One, the dream sequence where The shadow warrior is haunted by Shingen's ghost and Two, the drawnout post-battle climax scenes - is reserved only for master directors, I think.