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Aug 20, 2007

The Light Warrior



Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha, The Shadow Warrior (1980) is not only about the philosophic meaning of a man's shadow but also about a powerful poetry with shadows experienced through behaviors and cinematic landscapes. Is not a coincidence that shadows are a constant in most of the shots. Just in the first shot we can see a dark ambient illuminated by a candle and a kind of magic source, creating different shadows as a "mother image" that anticipates what will be experienced through the whole film: ambition, submission, war and... shadows.

The light is justified in this first shot by that candle in the middle of the scene, even when we know that there is more light in the ambient that a candle can give. Kurosawa repeats the use of a magic source masterfully. He never shows ceilings, and especially in those Japanese scenarios, we never know if the characters are in a closed or open space. Every kind of houses and castles have the possibility of rooms without ceilings, gardens or courtyards. Thus, the director can play with the idea of a light coming from a lantern, a high lamp, a streetlight, or the moon. The fire is another resource that is used aesthetically powerful--and also appropriate for that age. There is a beautiful shot with the soldiers waiting outside the castle at night, near a tall old wall and some mountains, where big bonfires allow the hit of huge orange key lights mixed with soft blue fill lights justified by the moon's presence.

Maybe the most amazing -and famous- shot in the film is where the soldiers march under the sunlight in the dawn, where due to a sun just becoming visible, different kind of shadows are created and converted into giant soldiers. One more time the importance and detail in the cinematography and lighting generate new meanings. The shadow of an emperor, the shadow of the soldiers, the shadow of natural resources, are all over there unavoidably. In this specific shot the soldiers carry on big flags, most of them perpendicular to the sunlight, maybe used as reflection sources. The shadows are also used to emphasize the power of the character and his oratory. A great example is a discourse told by the Takeda's leader Shingen (brilliantly interpreted by Tatsuya Nakadai). While he talks under a light coming from a mysterious ceiling and some candles, the rest of the clan is seated in rows confronting him scarcely illuminated in the darkness. The shadows of the clan members are big enough to show that even when a fundamental figure is recognized as a leader, all of them are crouching tigers ready to emerge at any given moment.

The final battle arrives, in an open space during the day. Some shots are illuminated by the natural sun, others are opaque due to the presence of clouds, but all of them are like wonderful paintings--as most of the original Kurosawa's storyboards. Like any other Kurosawa's film, this story converges ambiguity, different layers, aesthetic splendor and powerful meanings: beneath the shadows lies the light.

1 comment:

Cynthia said...

Kurosawa might be able to make magic with images, but Pablo's words create magic imagery as well. Now I must see this movie - if only to see the lights and the shadows with my own eyes.