Tatsuya Nakadai did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Takeda Shingen as well as the titular character in Kagemusha.
This is the first Akira Kurosawa film that I am reviewing a performance from that does not feature Toshiro Mifune. Toshiro Mifune and Kurosawa unfortunately had a falling out in 1965 and their last collaboration was Red Beard. Although one does have to look at the later Kurosawa filmography and can see that not too many of the films would have really been a fit for Mifune except his two films in the 80's Kagemusha and Ran, although then again maybe Kurosawa would have made films with Mifune in mind if he was still with Mifune but that's another discussion I suppose. Ran and Kagemusha though definitely did have a lead part there ripe for Mifune that was instead taken by Tatsuya Nakadai who could have been seen a successor of sorts for Mifune as he the sorta secondary leading role in High and Low when Mifune had the primary lead.
I guess the first thing that needs to be said is that Nakadai is not Toshiro Mifune. He doesn't have that same type of overwhelming presence that Mifune had. That is not a problem when it comes to this role and Nakadai does still have a strong although not quite as individualistic screen presence. Nakadai is suppose to be both Shingen and his double and look rather very closely to his brother Nobukado (Tsutomu Yamazaki). Both Nakadai and Yamazaki look almost nothing like the way they looked in High and Low. This can of course can be attributed to makeup, the 16th century costumes, and that this film was made seventeen years later, but as well because they don't quite have that distinction Mifune had in his face. You can always see Mifune no matter the costume, the facial hair, or even his age as his piercing eyes alone are a dead give away. Nakadai was probably actually the better choice simply because it is easier to believe there could be more than one Nakadai where two Mifunes might have been a bit of a stretch.
Anyway I ought to forget Mifune as he was never going to play the part when he and Kurosawa would not even speak to each other at the time as well as because Nikadai handles the part his own way. This is a dual role of course and the film opens with a very eerie looking shot of three men who look almost identical one being Yamazaki as the Lord's brother, and the other two being Nakadai as the war Lord and the thief Kagemusha who was spared so he could act as the Lord's double. Nakadai is actually quite brilliant right from the start as he plays the two characters compeltely differently even though they look exactly the same. As Shingen Nakadai has a pronounced confidence in his performance. There is a slyness in him and simply through his manner and self satisfied grin gives us a war lord whose cunning is pronounced.
Nikadai in a few scenes gives us a glimpse of the war lord Shingen and suggests so much more to him in so little time. He has that certain power of personality in his portrayal that shows exactly why the men would follow him as they do. Nikadai is very low key in his portrayal of this yet he establishes very effectively through a certain underlying wisdom in the man along with the blindness of a ruler. Nikadai shows what makes a man of power because he has what is there that allows him to gain and keep that power which is an intelligence and a conviction, but as well what the power will do to any man as there always is an indulgent pompousness that Nakadai brings in Shingen's healthy scenes suggesting that Shingen very much believes he is smarter than everyone around him.
What is outstanding about this performance is the way Nikadai can seem like a completely different man in the same scene despite looking exactly the same. In the first scene we also see Kagemusha who Nikadai is very different because he does not have any of the oppressive qualities that are in the other man, and is a far more despondent and emotional sort. His body language is different as Nikadai plays him as a far less controlled man who is more open in his fears as well as his emotions, and even is clearly less intelligent than Shingen as well. Nakadai also has a certain openness in Kagemusha that cannot be found in Shingen. Nikadai makes Kagemusha a very average man who finds himself struggling in a strange situation, but as Shingen he controls the situation.
His role as Shingen and rather quickly but not without a send off scene for the lord which is very important. In his last scene he is gravely injured and soon will die but does not wish the cause of his clan to die along with him. The presumptive quality is gone and we see just what was always behind him which was a true passion for his cause. It is a very well handled scene because he does show there is something that was worthwhile in the man which is extremely important later on in the film in terms of Kagemusha's actions late in the film. Nakadai lets us see why the men would follow the man's wish through this passion as well as that same underlying power of personality that Nakadai gives to Shingen. After this point Nakadai exclusively plays Kagemusha and we get a very different performance from him.
Nakadai does not just change as the character he plays but even the type of performance he is going for as he is rather comic for quite awhile as Kagemusha first takes over for Shingen. The early scenes as he tries to grow accustom involve some brilliant comedic timing from Nakadai. This works particularly well because he has Kagemusha trying to be the big powerful commander even though he is not and there is a certain falseness to it all that works beautifully. He shows the effort that Kagemusha puts on to be Shingen as he always seems to be trying to be bigger than he is but never being completely believable as the man. There is one great moment in particular when the war lords grandson's questions Kagemusha's validity and Nakadai look of unease and worry is absolutely perfect.
Kagemusha though slowly starts to get the hang of the job and Nakadai has a great deal of fun showing the way Kagemusha starts to have a little bit of fun with the job as well. His portrayal of the ups and downs of the life as the performer are very well done by Nakadai. He always makes the impersonation something very complex though showing that this whole job affects Kagemusha in more than one fashion. There is the act of performance always there with the performance and he strikes the right chord of the man trying to do a good job of being another man who he looks just like without never quite being that man. It is a strange dynamic but one that Nakadai succeeds with incredibly well making Kagemusha's impersonation believable but never just repeating what he did earlier with Shingen.
There are changes in Kagemusha and Nakadai handles these each carefully and never rushes them in any respect. He shows the early mishaps with a great deal of humor but as well brings a very real fear of the whole idea of filling the shoes of the man. The fears is the only time I do have to quickly mention Mifune as these scenes almost seem like they were made for a classic Mifune freak out, as I said Nakadai is not Mifune but he commits himself admirably and still handles this his own way. He has that emotional intensity needed, it is not the same as it would have been from Mifune, but it does not have to be as part of what he does is that Kagemusha is almost petrified by the act of filling in for the dead man so Nakadai more downplayed approach works well in portraying the mental state of Kagemusha.
Kagemusha though due to being in battle is forced to almost become Shingen suddenly. It is a difficult scene but one that Nakadai nails in treading the two characters. He does not become Shingen fully still. An inner power come out of Kagemusha and true passion for what the clan is doing but it is different from that shown by Shingen. Nakadai has this one from that of the passion of a normal man not a master of man, and there is something truly special about the moment because Nakadai brings out of Kagemusha's own soul that is entirely different from Shingen's. This event is short lived as the false Shingen is found out and Kagemusha is sent away.
The last scenes of the film are very impressive for Nakadai as he leaves Kagemusha as nothing left anymore and can only attempt to believe in Shingen's values. Nakadai despondent portrayal is quite moving as Kagemusha has become so invested in the cause he was technically only ever used by, but now has become such an integral part of. Losing his place so suddenly Nakadai shows Kagemusha to be shattered by the event leaving him as an emotional husk. It is handled perfectly by Nakadai because he absolutely has earned through his transformation that showed the investment of Kagemusha that made him the man, and this result could have only come from being instantly thrown out of even the slightest connection with the man. The very sad moment at the end of the film where Kagemusha last desperate attempt to do something for "his" clan is heartbreaking because Nakadai shows it as not the most sensible thing he could have done but the only thing Kagemusha had left to do. I have to admit that I love this performance by Tatsuya Nakadai and it even made me not mind at all that Toshiro Mifune did not lead this Kurosawa film. Nakadai never feels like a replacement here which is very important and he succeeds with this part in an incredible fashion. Technically speaking the Kagemusha could have been very simply just been very simple. Nakadai creates a complex portrait of both a charismatic warlord showing what makes a man of power, and of the impersonators journey which is one of humor, passion, and tragedy.