Just as many American studio-era directors found acclaim abroad that was denied them in their home country, by 1980 Akira Kurosawa's reputation outside Japan exceeded his esteem at home. As uncompromising as ever, he found considerable difficulty securing backing for his ambitious projects. Unsure he would be able to film it, the director, an aspiring artist before he entered filmmaking, converted Kagemusha into a series of paintings, and it was partly on the basis of these that he won the financial support of longtime admirers Francis Ford Coppola and George Lucas. Set in the 16th century, when powerful warlords competed for control of Japan, it offers an examination of the nature of political power and the slipperiness of identity.
Criterion has put together another impressive and well-deserved package for Kurosawa's late samurai classic Kagemusha. Kagemusha is a visual treat. The only way to view this colorful, epic masterpiece is in widescreen. This newly restored, high-definition 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is stellar and the next best thing to seeing the film in the theater. The audio commentary by Kurosawa scholar, biographer, and fan Stephen Prince is nothing short of excellent. Kagemusha can run a little deep. Unless you are a hardcore Japanese film, history, and symbolism buff, Prince's informative, guiding hand will be much appreciated. The main features on the second disc are the documentaries. In the 19-minute Lucas, Coppola and Kurosawa (2005), George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola discuss how important Kurosawa's films were to their development as directors. When the opportunity arose for them to help Kurosawa produce Kagemusha in the late 1970s, they jumped at the chance to work with him. Both discuss what it was like on the set of Kagemusha, from the perspective of students, producers, and fans watching the master create one of his most powerful films. Also included is an informative 41-minute Japanese "making of" documentary, which is the Kagemusha portion of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It's Wonderful to Create. If you are new to Kurosawa's late period, this Criterion set is an excellent introduction to the last, dreamlike phase of his career. Longtime fans will find loads of new material to explore as well.