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Kagemusha: Shingen as comedian

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    Ugetsu

    So much of the commentary I’ve read on Kagemusha seems to consider Nakadai as a poor choice for the film – the implication being that if Katsu had not been fired, it would have been a superior film. Richie (or was it Mellon who wrote that part of his book?) seems to imply that Katsu had it in him to do a great dramatic part, while Prince seems to imply that the casting of Nakadai forced AK into downgrading the comedy in the original story. He does make a good case that the scene where the thief opens the great jar, expecting a treasure, but finding a rotting body, was originally to be played very much for laughs. I do think another actor might have made the thief more sympathetic, more human, although he might have made Shingen less believable as a charismatic leader.

    I’m in two minds about this – I like Nakadai’s performance – in fact, I think he was much better in this than in Ran. I think his command of his physical movements is wonderful, he expresses so much in his walk and how he moves. But I do think he lacks a bit of the devilishness the character required, a sort of Jack Nicholson swagger. I don’t know a lot about Katsu, but I am intrigued at the idea of what a physical comedian could have done with the role. I do think it could have resulted in a very different film, one where his transformation and growth into a ‘shadow’ became the core of the film, rather than just one element. But perhaps this isn’t what Kurosawa wanted?

    Of course, Mifune would have been perfect as both buffoonish thief and charismatic leader 🙄

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    Ugetsu

    … and apologies for ‘Shbingen’ error, slipping fingers! 😳

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: apologies for ‘Shbingen’ error, slipping fingers! 😳

    I see no such mistake. 🙄

    I wonder whether the suggestion that Kagemusha would have been more of a comedy with Katsu is actually based on any hard facts. Can they have changed the tone of the film so completely during the time it took to wait for Nakadai to take the role? Shooting had, after all, already begun when Katsu left. With Kurosawa known for casting against type, I have no problem imagining him wanting a more serious performance also from Katsu.

    I’m not saying that Katsu wouldn’t have brought a lighter side to the film, but I’m a bit sceptical about the alleged impact of the actor change. Or, is there something that I am forgetting about?

    I have personally grown quite fond of Nakadai’s performance in Kagemusha, and cannot really see why he is getting such lackluster responses from critics. Similarly, I think it’s Richie (or Galbraith?) who suggests that Mifune would have been a more natural replacement, but I’m not so sure about that, either. Nakadai brings a certain level of theatricality to both Kagemusha and Ran which I quite enjoy, especially the latter. I personally think that Nakadai’s range is also much better than Mifune’s, which I think is crucial when you need to be both a noble and a thief.

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    Ryan

    I don’t think a comedy would have worked as well as the film we have now. Judging by the aesthetics and colourfulness of the film, as well as the fact that it was made in the late 1970’s (and released in 1980), I envision a comedic Kagemusha as a slapstick Kagemusha. Now I don’t know about you, but slapstick comedy, to me, reeks of stereotypical actions which are just so commonplace in both film and tv that we’ve seen 99% of it all before. Therefore, it is not funny. Then again, I’m going by what I would predict a comedic Kagemusha to be on the basis of the current look of the film and when it was released.

    But this prediction of mine (Kagemusha being largely a slapstick comedy were it to become a comedy) also has some depth in the fact that Kagemusha was heavily funded by 20th Century Fox (a Western studio). Now, slapstick comedy is a universal comedy in that it does not require language or speech to result in laughter. Human beings, after all, share a common instinct in terms of comedic physical idiosyncrasies. Making Kagemusha largely a slapstick comedy then would give it wide appeal to both Japanese and Western audiences alike. This would also appease both 20th Century Fox and Toho studios. This would also potentially help box office sales globally (which was probably a big concern for Kurosawa given that he previously tried to commit suicide after the failure of Dodesukaden and also struggled with obtaining finance from studios). Additionally, Kurosawa’s affection for Western silent cinema makes it safe to assume that he enjoyed Western silent comedies, or at least would have been influenced by them while making Kagemusha a comedy.

    Anyway enough of my theory that Kagemusha would largely become a slapstick comedy film had the original actor have stayed on to do the film. It’s irrelevant, completely hypothetical and full of discrepancies. Nevertheless my intention was to state that I hate slapstick comedy and, had Kagemusha become that, I would have disliked the result very much. I say that with near certainty, despite it being a Kurosawa product and the fact that the film was even been made.

    If I’ve confused you, I apologise. To be fair, I’ve confused myself. That’s what night work’ll do to you.

    But basically, I completely disagree with Ritchie’s comments, or whoever’s comments, that Kagemusha would have been far superior with Katsu in the role. I think it would have been a travesty. I think Nakadai is severely underrated as an actor, be it in Kagemusha or any of his films. All of his performances tend to be overshadowed by other actors, yet maybe that is the sign of a truly great actor; the act of subtlety; so real that it goes unnoticed.

    But alas, I digress.

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    Vili Maunula

    You raise an interesting point, Ryan. If the film was intended to employ more slapstick comedy, could it be that those scenes were dropped, explaining why we now see so little of the thief getting accustomed to his role as the double? Certainly, those are the kind of situations that would have offered ample room for physical comedy.

    Having not seen the original script, it’s difficult to say either way.

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    cocoskyavitch

    Vili said,

    If the film was intended to employ more slapstick comedy, could it be that those scenes were dropped, explaining why we now see so little of the thief getting accustomed to his role as the double?

    Wow. I had a hard time seeing how comedy would “work” in the film. I accept it as this very serious meditiation on person/persona and the nature of identity-but Vili, you have allowed me to see how and where it might have worked. And, I imagine it would have been quite a different film-but that it could have been quite a good one.

    I personally am so very pleased that Tatsuya Nakadai was the replacement choice-there is a roundness and fullness to his being on screen first in Seven Samurai as a walk-through ronin, then, here and in Ran at the conclusion of Kurosawa’s career.

    I also think Mifune could have been magnificent. I am with Ryan and Ugetsu-and think that Katsu would not have made the film superior in any way. It would have been different, yes, and could have been quite good, but it does not hold that it would necessarily have been superior! How could such a judgement be made?

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    Ugetsu

    I did find it hard to get my head around the idea of Kagemusha as a comedy, but I assume that since both Richie (or is it Mellon who wrote that chapter of his book?) and Prince refer to it, it must be based on some fact. It does, however, undermine Richies notion of Kagemusha being overdesigned if Kurosawa was so willing to change the tone.

    I find it hard to imagine that Kagemusha could have been a Sanjuro-type comedy, slapstick or not, but my interpretation of what Prince and Richie say is that perhaps the intention was that the thief would be more of a Kikuchiyo type individual. Someone bumbling and clownish, who eventually developed a nobility from his contact with the more noble aspects of bushido. I could imagine a few of the scenes played more for laughs that way – in particular that great scene where instead of solemnly trotting past the soldiers under the gaze of the spies, he gallops his horse and rouses his men to cheers, before ending up bouncing along the dirt. Maybe it would have been more like the scene in Seven Samurai whether Kikuchiyo tries to tame the horse and ends up falling off to general hilarity.

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    Ugetsu

    And on a completely irrelevant and left field thought, since I speculated idly before thatHidetora was the alter ego of Kambei, then maybe the thief is the alter ego of Kikuchiyo….

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    Vili Maunula

    Ugetsu: I find it hard to imagine that Kagemusha could have been a Sanjuro-type comedy, slapstick or not, but my interpretation of what Prince and Richie say is that perhaps the intention was that the thief would be more of a Kikuchiyo type individual.

    That, I think, has been how also I have typically imagined it.

    Or has it? To be honest, ever since Ryan’s comments, I have started to think of the alternative Kagemusha with Charlie Chaplin in the lead role. Oh dear.

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    Ryan

    Sounds good to me!

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