By Michael Ferraro | April 25, 2005

Before Francis Ford Coppola financed films made by convicted pedophiles (“Jeepers Creepers”) and George Lucas destroyed an infamous part of pop-culture (the original “Star Wars” trilogy DVD set), they joined forces to do one great thing. They helped one of the greatest directors that ever walked this earth, Akira Kurosawa, internationally fund a dream project of his, “Kagemusha.”

The film is one of Kurosawa’s most colorful and beautiful films. It is a masterful epic from back when armies were created by countless extras, instead of computer-generated madness. He directs every shot perfectly, including an elaborate amount of color and movement with every shot, never over-focusing on battles or pointless side plots.

Just as Lord Shingen, head of the Takeda clan, is on the brink of death, he orders his officers to keep his death a secret for three years. Prior to this, Shingen’s brother finds a thief about to take a death penalty that has an uncanny resemblance to the real Shingen. When the Lord finally dies, this new clone takes over the position and does his best to act and perform just as the real Shingen did.

And finally, thanks to those fine folks at Criterion, we can see the film in its entirety. This all new DVD set includes “Kagemusha” in its complete, 180-minute glory. The transfer is amazing and the sound is crystal clear.

Included in with the extra features, is an interview conducted with Lucas and Coppola about their relationships with Kurosawa and how he much he inspired them. Even though this past decade hasn’t really been kind to the two of them (or their fans), it is so nice to hear them talk about how important it was for them to help a director who helped shaped their skills. Audiences were robbed of treasures when masters like Kurosawa and Welles couldn’t get financing because they hadn’t proved their “worth” with their last few films. Even some of today’s living legends – like Carpenter, Romero and sometimes even Scorsese – have problems finding studios to back them. Thankfully, Lucas and Coppola stepped up to the plate, otherwise this film may not exist today and Kurosawa may not have made anymore.

The set also comes with a 48-page booklet complete with an interview with Kurosawa with critic Tony Rayns. A Biographical piece by Kurosawa scholar Donald Richie is also revealing and informative. Before Kurosawa started directing, he was an artist and put together storyboards. The booklet also contains countless paintings done by the director and each of them is so vivid and beautiful – he obviously saw his films in his mind just as grand as they were executed on screen. On the second disc, there is also gallery of the storyboards for your viewing pleasure on a bigger format.

Two documentaries are also contained. One, “Image: Kurosawa’s Continuity,” is a 40-minute piece constructing “Kagemusha” with his storyboards. The other is part of the Toho Masterworks series entitled,”Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create.” It is an educational 40-minute portion of that, which chronicles the making of the film.

Criterion even included some great Suntory Whiskey commercials that were shot on the set of “Kagemusha.” They really went all out with this set.

Akira Kurosawa aficionados may also enjoy the splendor of author Stephen Prince’s (The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa) commentary. His remarks are edifying and plenty of knowledge can be learned here – the film is 3 hours long.

It’s very gratifying for fans of Kurosawa each time we have a chance to finally retire our horrible VHS versions of his films. Now we have our chance yet again, with “Kagemusha.”

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