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Kagemusha: Differences between the two versions

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    Vili Maunula

    For a few years now, in fact ever since this post, I have very much been wanting to find out what the actual differences between Kagemusha‘s original Japanese cut and the so-called “international cut” are. So, armed with an American Criterion copy, a European 20th Century Fox release, two screens, some remote controls and a notebook, I decided to find out.

    At the end of this post, you will find a list of differences between the two versions. Before the list, however, here are some general observations.

    The question that I most wanted to find an answer to has to do with the purpose of the shorter “international” cut. Michael Auerbach, quoted in Galbraith (561), has suggested that the shorter cut was produced because the additional 20 minutes would be “incomprehensible to an American audience”. Meanwhile, assistant director Michael Rich, also quoted in Galbraith (560-561), suggests that the original Japanese cut was still work-in-progress, and that the shorter international cut was intended by Kurosawa as the final version of the film.

    Looking at the differences between the two versions, it seems to me that Auerbach’s claim has very little validity. Most of the differences between the “Japanese” and the “international” cut have to do with the removal of material from the beginning or the end of scenes, making the film move forward with a slightly faster tempo. The material that was removed in this manner includes very little dialogue. In fact, from the handful of scenes that actually do remove a few spoken lines (and apart from one sub-plot, more of which below), I would consider only one instance such where something substantial was removed (see the entry timestamped 1:46:45).

    The only really major scenes removed involve the sub-plot where Ieyasu sends a Jesuit doctor to check on Shingen. These scenes and all references to them have been removed entirely from the “international” cut, famously leading to the situation where none of the scenes featuring Takashi Shimura are present. I cannot, however, see how this sub-plot could be “incomprehensible to an American audience”, not least because it actually involves the only westerners in the whole film.

    Let it also be noted that at no point do the two versions differ in terms of the take or camera angle selected for a particular scene. Although individual scenes are sometimes slightly longer or shorter between the two, the footage used is always from the same take and from the same film stock.

    Surprisingly, the shorter cut includes a few things not present in the longer cut. These are mainly just very quick transitional inserts, such as the image of the sun softening the move from one scene to another (see entry timestamped 0:34:30), or a historical introduction at the beginning of the film (see entry 0:07:05). Whatever the reasons behind the shorter cut, it is clear that Kurosawa took the editing work seriously, and wasn’t simply aiming to bring down the running time.

    It does in fact seem to me that Rich’s suggestion may have some validity, and the shorter cut may have been meant as the more “authoritative one”. It is difficult to say, but by and large I felt that the changes — which as I said mainly shorten various scenes — make the film flow better. Having said that, there are also a few instances where I preferred the way scenes worked in the longer cut.

    Whatever the final answer may be, I would definitely suggest everyone who is interested in Kurosawa’s editing methods to watch the two versions simultaneously. It is an interesting, if slow and brain-burning exercise. It is also a rare chance for us mere mortals to study Kurosawa’s editing process.

    Finally, I must say that the Criterion print is about a gazillion times better looking than the Fox print that I have (released in 2007). The colours are much better, and the Fox release cuts the picture from both sides, leading to very crammed compositions. In fact, having now witnessed the superiority of the Criterion print, I feel like throwing away the Fox print entirely, so poor looking it is, when compared to the Criterion.

    LIST OF DIFFERENCES

    Although I took great care in compiling this list, it may contain mistakes, and I may well also have missed something. I refer to the two editions here as “Criterion” (the longer “Japanese” cut as released on DVD by Criterion) and “Fox” (the shorter “international” cut as released on DVD by 20th Century Fox). The timestamps given may not always be totally precise (I would guess they come with an error margin of around 20 seconds), and always refer to the Criterion cut.

    Similarly, due to the speed difference between NTSC and PAL, the lengths given for particular scenes are somewhat imprecise. The rule of the thumb is that if I am talking about Criterion, I am referring to NTSC speed, while if I am talking about Fox, the reference is to PAL speed. The difference is about 4% I believe, and you can certainly see it when watching the same scene in these two formats (NTSC, running slower, starts to lag behind fairly soon).

    Without further ado, here are the differences:

    0:07:05 — additional content

    Fox has opening title cards (2) in Japanese that provide a short historical introduction to the era. Criterion lacks these.

    0:07:05 — length

    The post-titles sequence with a messenger running amongst soldiers differs between the two versions. Criterion is roughly 20 seconds longer, as it includes a few extra shots.

    0:09:00 — length

    The meeting scene that follows the above is about 10 seconds longer in Criterion, which includes a few extra lines of dialogue.

    0:10:10 — length

    Yamagata’s arrival, which follows the above, is about 15 seconds longer in Criterion, as Fox does not show Yamagata getting off the horse, or the following short scene with the servant walking to Shingen to announce Yamagata.

    0:15:45 — order, length

    The two versions differ here in the order in which we are shown messengers inform Ieyasu and Nobunaga about Shingen’s death. In Criterion, news are first brought to Ieyasu and then Nobunaga. In Fox, the scenes are given in the opposite order.

    The scene with Ieyasu is longer in Criterion by around 45 seconds. Those 45 seconds include Ieyasu’s aides telling him that it is only natural that they rejoice if Shingen is dead, and suggest that they send word to Nobunaga, to which Ieyasu replies by saying that Nobunaga must already know. Note that when considering the changed order of these two scenes, these last lines would have been somewhat superfluous in Fox, as the viewer has already been shown Nobunaga’s reaction.

    Similarly, the scene with Nobunaga is roughly 10 seconds longer in Criterion, as Fox omits the scene-ending part where Nobunaga rides circles with his horse on the courtyard.

    0:19:20 — additional content

    Criterion has a scene lasting for roughly 2 minutes in which a man in a castle on a snowy mountain is informed about Shingen’s death, and he laments it briefly. (It remains unclear to me who this man is.) Fox does not have this.

    0:22:20 — additional transition

    Moving from the ride to the castle, Criterion has an extra transition shot here, which lasts for just a second or two.

    0:25:05 — length

    In Criterion, after telling his generals that if he is to die they are not to move, Shingen wipes his moustache for a few seconds longer at the end of the scene.

    0:29:45 — length

    Criterion has a longer lead-in to the scene where Shingen dies. The extra two minutes at the beginning include a doctor’s assessment that the journey could aggravate Shingen’s wound and the subsequent stopping and lowering of the carriage. In Fox, the scene begins with the carriage already on the ground.

    0:32:25 — length

    Criterion allows a few seconds more for Yamagata’s stare, which ends the scene that gives us Shingen’s death.

    0:34:30 — additional transition

    Cutting from the marching troops to the generals meeting at night (where they are first introduced to Kagemusha), Fox has an additional transitioning insert of the sun here, lasting for less than a second.

    0:38:15 — length

    As the spy observes what is happening down on the beach, Criterion shows him for roughly 20 seconds longer between cuts.

    0:47:30 — length

    In the scene where Kagemusha opens Shingen’s burial casket, Fox omits around 15 seconds by doing a jump cut after Kagemusha places down the first casket piece that he has removed. In Criterion, the action is continuous.

    1:00:45 — length

    Criterion has a few seconds more lead-in for the scene where the three spies discuss the announcement that the jar contained sake. Criterion also gives the scene a few seconds extra at the end.

    1:30:00 — order, additional scene, length

    At this point, the two versions differ in the order in which the next scenes (altogether roughly 9 minutes) are presented. Fox also shortens one scene and omits a short transitional cut.

    In Criterion, the order is: 1) Ieyasu declares his intention to attack; 2) The attack taking place; 3) Katsuyori discusses Shingen with an advisor, the topic being how much Shingen cared for Katsuyori — this scene runs a few seconds longer in Criterion as Fox omits the advisor getting up at the end; 4) A 5-second transitional scene with a horseman galloping on a beach (Fox drops this entirely); 5) Kagemusha and Shingen’s grandson socialise, Kagemusha learns about the reason Shingen was called a “mountain”.

    In Fox, the order is: 1) Katsuyori and the advisor discuss Shingen; 2) Kagemusha and Shingen’s son socialise; 3) Ieyasu declares his intention to attack; 4) Attack taking place.

    After this, both versions continue with a scene beginning with the line “Message from Katsuyori!”

    1:40:00 — length

    Criterion has a roughly 30 seconds longer introduction to the scene, with servants moving candles around.

    1:44:30 — differing content

    After Kagemusha has declared to the assembly that “a mountain does not move”, the two versions differ in how Katsuyori’s response is shown:

    Criterion has a 10 second scene of Katsuyori storming out of the castle on horseback.

    Fox, instead, has a 3 second close-up of Katsuyori sitting on the floor, angry, right after Kagemusha has exited the assembly hall.

    1:46:45 — length

    Criterion has an additional 20 seconds at the end of the scene where Kagemusha’s actions during the assembly are discussed. This consists of Nobukado’s remarks that are quite central to the film’s theme (basically, what it is like to be a double).

    1:48:00 — length

    In Criterion, the dream squence is about 1 minute and 20 seconds longer, and it includes longer, calmer scenes as well as extra scenes, making it more drawn out than the more urgent version found in Fox.

    1:53:00 — length

    In Criterion, the scene with Nobunaga leaving his castle is roughly 30 seconds longer. The additional material has Nobunaga discussing the Jesuit priests that he has just greeted, and ordering a man of medicine to be sent to Shingen. The entire sequence with the doctor is omitted in Fox.

    1:56:40 — additional content

    Criterion has around 2 minutes extra at the end of the scene where Shingen’s generals discuss things. This additional content deals with the arrival of the Jesuit physician (see above).

    1:59:00 — additional content

    After a brief scene of drummers which both versions include, Criterion cuts to a scene with the Jesuit physician and Taguchi (Takashi Shimura) meeting Kagemusha. This, once again, does not exist in Fox.

    2:21:45 — length

    Criterion has 30 seconds more content at the beginning of the scene where Nobunaga and Ieyasu meet following the night battle. In the additional content, Nobunaga thanks Taguchi and the Jesuit priest for their report on Shingen’s health, comments on it and asks his servant to bring some wine, then sits down. In Fox, the scene begins with Nobunaga already seated.

    2:41:30 — length

    In the scene that gives us the title card “May 21, 1575”, Criterion has 30 seconds extra at the beginning, showing the three generals slowly riding camera right before they turn to ride away from the camera. Fox begins the scene with the generals already riding away from the camera. Since both versions start the scene with the date superimposed on the image, the date is consequently inserted at slightly different points in the two versions.

    2:53:00 — length, order

    The scene that shows Shingen’s troops dead on the ground is around 1 minute 30 seconds longer in Criterion. The order of the individual shots within the montage also slightly differs between the two versions.

    2:56:00 — differing content

    End titles in Criterion are in Japanese, while Fox has them in English. The end title sequence in Criterion is around 1 minute 20 seconds longer.

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    Fabien

    Nice work, Vili.

    It made me feel like watching the Criterion release.

    I had bought it some time ago, in addition to my previously bought Fox release, in order to watch the full story and also for the last show of this great actor, Takashi Shimura, but I hadn’t take the time until now.

    I must say that the second watch gave me a far better impression than the first “international cut” one.

    The scene with the priest/missionary, Taguchi and Kagemusha drawn my attention – and is interesting from a directing point of view, I suppose – with the war drums coming precisely at the moment the priest listens to Shingen’s heartbeat.

    The scene with the three missionaries on the wall above Nobunaga is interesting from an historical point of view, and, as you noted, is a point which should interest western folks.

    But, like with other characters, I’m a little puzzled here: is the main priest (the one who moves to Takeda place and listens to Kagemusha heartbeat) played by Francis Selleck? (The Criterion booklet gives him as Francis S. Sercu, which could be a japanese transliteration?)

    And what about the character played by Takashi Shimura? I might be mistaken, but you seem to mix up Yamagata (main Takeda general, with white hair, red face, and which speaks loudly – played by Hideji Otaki) with Taguchi.

    Who is this last one, by the way? I would say he is an emissary of Shingen and Nobukado’s father (I forgot the name, which is told only once, I think) and, at the same time, a sort of spy from Nobunaga, but it isn’t very clear to me, as for the position and story of this father – banned by his son.

    I had already some difficulties to apprehend the story with the shorter cut, but with this one and its novelties, I’m a little lagging. :p

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    Vili Maunula

    is the main priest (the one who moves to Takeda place and listens to Kagemusha heartbeat) played by Francis Selleck?

    Yes, according to IMDb!

    And what about the character played by Takashi Shimura? I might be mistaken, but you seem to mix up Yamagata (main Takeda general, with white hair, red face, and which speaks loudly – played by Hideji Otaki) with Taguchi.

    You are absolutely correct, I did make a mistake there. I didn’t catch his name, so rather than referring to him as “Shimura” I checked Wikipedia just before posting, which clearly has it wrong. You are right, the name is Taguchi, and I have corrected that now.

    Who is [Taguchi], by the way? I would say he is an emissary of Shingen and Nobukado’s father (I forgot the name, which is told only once, I think) and, at the same time, a sort of spy from Nobunaga, but it isn’t very clear to me, as for the position and story of this father – banned by his son.

    Takeda Nobutora, Shingen and Nobukado’s father, was exiled by Shingen after he seized the Takeda lands, annoyed that his father favoured another son, Nobushige.

    I had already some difficulties to apprehend the story with the shorter cut, but with this one and its novelties, I’m a little lagging. :p

    If you have the chance to watch the film with Stephen Prince’s commentary, I would very much recommend it. Most of his talk, at least on the Fox release, deals with the historical background of the film. Prince points out a number of things that I had no idea about, such as most lesser characters having a direct historical counterpart, and also how Kurosawa bent history at places in this otherwise very historically accurate film.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Good stuff, Vili! Fabien, the Criterion rocks, and I wonder if you are even able to “get” the film without understanding its color? Kurosawa is painting with light and color, here, and it is absolutely gorgeous. Many scenes are color compostions, and it looks so fresh-it’s as if shot yesterday!

    Vili, a great example of Kurosawa’s sense of feel for color is here:

    0:19:20 — additional content

    Criterion has a scene lasting for roughly 2 minutes in which a man in a castle on a snowy mountain is informed about Shingen’s death, and he laments it briefly. (It remains unclear to me who this man is.) Fox does not have this.

    Skin tones tend to be golden and warm, contrasted with some deep blue in the scene. We get the satisfaction of a complementary scheme in gold and blue when the man opens the window into the deep blue snow scene. Although we are not told who the man is, he clearly has deep respect for Shingen. The mysterious solemn beauty of the scene is fairytale-like in its iconic image-a contemplative man looking out at a snowy winter landscape from a high tower.

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