Shadowing Shakespeare

Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha (1980) and William Shakespeare's English History Plays (c. 1591–98)

in Critical Survey
Alex Watson Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan

Search for other papers by Alex Watson in
Current site
Google Scholar
Restricted access


In his 1980 film Kagemusha or Shadow Warrior, Akira Kurosawa presents the sixteenth-century Takeda clan engaging a lower-class thief to impersonate their recently deceased leader, Takeda Shingen. I examine Kagemusha as a critical engagement with Shakespeare's English history plays and ‘shadow’ counterpart to Kurosawa's trilogy of Shakespeare adaptations, Throne of Blood (1957), The Bad Sleep Well (1960) and Ran (1985). In keeping with Shakespeare's dramatisation of English history, Kurosawa creatively reworks historical sources, incorporating stories of intergenerational rivalry and fulfilled prophecies, to depict the transition from medieval civil conflict to the early-modern nation-state. Kurosawa also deploys the motif of the double to explore the distinctively Shakespearean theme of power as performance, engaging in a dramatic examination of Machiavelli's ideas about politics. I argue that Kurosawa's use of the double posits a theory of influence, drawing on Japanese cultural traditions, in which doubling can achieve a form of transcendence through self-annihilation.

Contributor Notes

Alex Watson is Associate Professor at the School of Arts and Letters, Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan. His major publications include Romantic Marginality: Nation and Empire on the Borders of the Page (2012) and British Romanticism in Asia: The Reception, Translation and Transformation of Romantic Literature in India and East Asia (2019) co-edited with Laurence Williams. He also serves as a series co-editor for Palgrave's Asia-Pacific and Literature in English series. He is currently working on a new research project on the use of annotation in anglophone representations of the Pacific (funded by the Japanese Society for the Promotion of Science). He is also the main organiser of Tokyo Humanities Café, a quarterly event that makes humanities research available to a wider audience beyond the university, and regularly writes articles and reviews for Kyoto Journal and Wall Street International.

  • Collapse
  • Expand