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The intended length of Kagemusha

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    Vili Maunula

    I was browsing some books for my Cannes article, and happened to stumble upon the question regarding the “intended” length of Kurosawa’s Kagemusha.

    As we all probably know, there are two basic versions of the film — the 179 minute Japanese cut, and the 162 minute “International” version. As my pick for the best Kagemusha DVD out there (on the DVD page) suggests, I have always thought that just like with his other films like Seven Samurai, the longer Japanese cut is the definitive one.

    Galbraith’s “Emperor and the Wolf”, however, points out that this may not be the case. It quotes Michael Rich, who worked as an assistant director on the movie, and who insists that:

    The true fact of the matter is that Kurosawa himself cut the film from its Japan release length (which was shown at Cannes) — no one else touched Kagemusha. Because of its expense and length of production, it was rushed into release in Japan to make back some of Toho’s investment as soon as possible. As a result, Kurosawa did not have sufficient time to cut the film to his liking. He considers the longer version a ‘rough cut’ of the film which unfortunately got shown and has used the intervening summer to prepare a final cut to his approval for the international release version. Contrary to popular film buff belief, it is not always the longer version which is truer to the filmmaker’s intentions. (560-561)

    Galbraith then also quotes critic Michael Auerbach, who instead insists that Kurosawa himself had said that he cut out the 20 minutes as they would be “incomprehensible to an American audience”. (561)

    I wonder if anyone knows or can remember any other possible source that would shed more light on the question regarding which cut of Kagemusha should be considered the one that Kurosawa himself was happy with?

    Moreover, if he indeed cut out 20 minutes to make it more “comprehensible” for western audiences, do you think that it is in fact the one that we should be watching? Or is it just the Americans who cannot understand those 20 minutes, and am I as someone living in Europe excluded from that group?

    The whole idea of cutting out 20 minutes from a movie because of issues of cultural comprehension sounds strange to me, and especially weird coming from a “citizen of the world” that Kurosawa declared himself to be.

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    Jeremy

    I have no answer, about the length of Kagamusha

    It however is not uncommon for foreign films to be re-cut for American audiences. This has happen many times in the past, and still occurs on a few occasions. The most recent I know of is the movie “The Decent” which had the ending re-cut, with about 10mins(?) chopped off. It was thought Americas wouldnt be able to understand it, or as a article I read mentioned: They fear Americans lack the intellect to self conclude the ending.

    Now some movies are cut for the purpose of that what is suppose to be important in a movie, may not get picked up in the American culture, in which nearly anything goes. I do understand those decisions to cut, as something important maybe lost, if not reworked another way. I still however would prefer to see its original version.

    The American movie audience is usually assumed to be stupid, and with sales of mindless movies far exceeding any that require thought, I cant exactly blame them. I blame the studio for continuing to make stupid movies, til the point where there is nothing but stupid movies to watch and therefor the studios induce the decline of taste in the American audience– but that a different topic all together.

    I would say the vast majority of people who are willing to watch a Kurosawa movie, could easy comprehend the original cut. If the reason for the cut, was comprehension, it is completely wrong to do so. I would then say the original full length Japanese version is the correct one, if in fact it was how Kurosawa wanted the Japanese to see it.

    Although rare there have been a few director cut movies, that were actually shorter then the original studio cut.

    I know this is true, but cant think which ones right now ­čÖé

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    Vili Maunula

    I would say the vast majority of people who are willing to watch a Kurosawa movie, could easy comprehend the original cut. If the reason for the cut, was comprehension, it is completely wrong to do so. I would then say the original full length Japanese version is the correct one, if in fact it was how Kurosawa wanted the Japanese to see it.

    Indeed. But I think the question is whether Kurosawa cut it because he thought that it was not suitable for foreign audiences (as per Auerbach), or because he wasn’t entirely satisfied with the original cut (as insisted by Rich).

    Although rare there have been a few director cut movies, that were actually shorter then the original studio cut.

    I know this is true, but cant think which ones right now ­čÖé

    Wasn’t Stone’s “director’s cut” of Alexander the Great shorter? Although in this case I believe it should rather be called “the director’s new cut”, as I think the original was just as much a “director’s cut”.

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    Ben

    I guess this is the time that we wish we oculd go and ask Kurosawa what he intended, eh?

    Well if he cut 20 minutes because of western comprehension, the longer version is the one to watch then, I guess.

    I know the first time I saw it on video, it was the 162 min. version then wehn Criterion released the film it was the 179 min. But I digress… Both of you have already made all appropiate musings on this subject. I can’t conjur up anything new to say.

    I just have this to add-

    I know Terrence Malick did something with The New World. Between the time it premiered in NYC and LA then expanded to wide release, he lopped off 15 minutes, used alternate takes, and even added new shots or scenes, and yet in the end the film was still shorter then the original cut screened in limited release.

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    Jon Hooper

    I haven’t seen the longer version, but automatically assumed it must be superior. You raise a very interesting point. In this age of Director’s Cuts and extended DVD versions we often assume that longer means better, but sometimes this is not the case, nor is it what the artist wants.

    Out of curiosity, how many prefer the longer version? Doesn’t it feature Takashi Shimura in one of his last roles?

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