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Kagemusha: the Dream

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    Vili Maunula

    The dream sequence in Kagemusha is interestingly similar to the one found in Drunken Angel, which we discussed last year.

    In both cases the main character is basically being chased or threatened by his dead doppelgänger. Yet, the dream in Kagemusha seems in many ways more complex, not least because you now have the added complexity that in addition to the Kagemusha himself, the doppelgänger may also represent Lord Shingen.

    What do you make of the dream in Kagemusha? What do you think of the setting?

    In what ways do you think Kagemusha’s dream relates to the one Matsunaga has in Drunken Angel?

    And how do you think these dreams are connected to the dreams depicted in Dreams, or the one that concludes Madadayo? If at all?

    Perhaps also worth noting is that Kurosawa has pointed out that the dream in Kagemusha was autobiographical, if not in content at least in its presentation:

    In the dream scene we see that what the double is undergoing is as painful as being crucified. He has to chase after the original yet feels pursued by him. He is struggling with his own identity in that dream.

    The reason for the sets appearing the way they do is because I myself often have dreams in brilliant, almost painfully bright, colors like that — and I felt that at that point the double must be experiencing the same kind of painful dreams that I do. (Kurosawa quoted in Cardullo, 73)



    Can’t wait until our friends start posting their reactions to your query, Vili. The dream sequence in Kagemusha has the lurid colors of Dodeskaden, shares the dramatic impulse of the main character, doppelgänger and pursuit as Drunken Angel and shows a sunset not unlike that in Madadayo but has a repetitive, numbing action that I cannot really relate to any other Kurosawa film. I don’t think it has anything in particular to do with Dreams in the “design” of the action, which is largely a bunch of floundering around on a very clearly artificial set. The floundering is intentional, I believe. The artifice makes us think that the “space’ where the action occurs is very different from the “space” of the rest of the film. I suggest that it is an interior space-the physical manifestation of the interior struggle of the thief (well, that may be quite self-evident, so let me mock myself here; “Doh”!).

    In literature relevant to the atomic bomb, Erik H. Erikson defines in Youth and Crisis the nature of crisis as a turning point:

    It may be a good thing that the word “crisis” no longer connotes impending catastrophe, which at one time seemed to be an obstacle to understanding the term. It is now being accepted as designating a necessary turning point, a crucial moment, when development must move one way or another, marshaling resources of growth, recovery and further differentiation. This proves applicable to many situations: a crisis in individual development or in the emergence of a new elite, in the therapy of an individual or in the tensions of rapid historical change.

    The thief is in crisis-he is about to accept the role of Lord Shingen-but the nuances of accepting the identity of another-the ungraspability of it-the elusive nature of self-these disturbing, troubling and largely unanswerable questions torture him. He pursues Shingen while being deathly (and I use the term pointedly) afraid of him, of losing himself, of Shingen himself and his role, and of the death of self as well. All of these emotions are done in dumb show-it is like Noh theatre for the generation raised on film-like Noh with a rock soundtrack (I am using “rock” to indicate visual equivalents, not the actual sound) and set design courtesy of Abstract Expressionism. The death of self in service to a greater goal is what the thief eventually embraces, but the fear of this leap of faith is made concrete in the dream sequence.

    What does it have to do with the sunset in Madadayo? I guess nothing and everything. I always think that part of what Kurosawa is saying in Kagemusha is that we all wear masks-social obligations, our roles in work, our home life, even-and these masks we wear make us all actors impersonating a “self”. In Kagemusha there is considerable anxiety about the wearing of the mask, fear of exposing the truth, and fear of loss of “self’. It is a film about anxiety on a personal level, and i have always felt it has autobiographic “vibrations”-I am reluctant to say that it directly relates to Kurosawa’s life or is a veiled attempt to explore his life-I would rather think that the troubles Kurosawa had experienced in relation to Dodeskaden and the suicide attempt had reverberations that had an impact on the stories he told after. Whether or not you believe that an Hispanic woman will make a “better” choice on the supreme court than her white male counterparts (nudge, nudge, judge Sotomayor) I am certain that you have no doubt that her experience will inform her decisions ot some degree. Same principle here: the stories Kurosawa is telling have some “reverberation” in his own life. One must tread cautiously to go farther than that.

    In Madadayo there is no longer any fear about dreams-they are the great solace and gift of Kurosawa’s/the professor’s life, and he embraces his gift-even retrospectively-to see, in his dream, as a child, that siren song he heard, that beauty that he saw-that separated him from the rest of his friends. He enters into that beauty with gratitude in the end.

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