Daibutsu, Kamakura

Daibutsu, Kamakura
Daibutsu in Kamakura, June 2010. There were thousands of school kids visiting that day. It was still great fun.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Akira Kurosawa's Kagemusha

This weekend I watched Kurosawa's samurai classic Kagemusha. Kagemusha is about the fall of the great Takeda clan at the end of the warring states period. The great clan warlord Takeda Shingen, who was feared even by Oda Nobunaga, was killed in 1573. But the clan generals fearing that their enemies Tokugawa Ieyasu and Oda Nobunaga would take advantage of Shingen's death and attack the Takeda, decided to hide his death. They employed a double or shadow warrior which is what Kagemusha means.

It was interesting to watch this movie since I have been reading about this time period. I just finished reading the book by Stephen Turnbull about the battle of Nagashino which was the decisive battle that essentially destroyed the Takeda clan.

In the movie, the clan fooled both Nobunaga and Ieyasu by employing the double for almost three years. However, Shingen's son, Takeda Katsuyori, was impatient and tired of living in his father's shadow. Against the will of his late father and against the advice of his generals, Katsuyori marched his army into Ieyasu's domain and attacked Nagashino castle. Iyeasu and Nobunaga came to the aid of the castle with almost 40,000 soldiers, including 3,000 soldiers with matchlock firearms. The Takeda were famous for their mounted samurai but they were no match for Nobunaga's guns. The Takeda mounted samurai were annihilated. The battle of Nagashino was a turning point in samurai history where the gun completely changed how samurai warfare would be fought.

The final scenes of the movie were pretty grotesque as the extent of the slaughter was revealed. The movie is long but pretty good, especially if you like Japanese history.


  1. Funny, I just -I mean just- finished reading about this in Eji Yoshikawa's "Taiko". I also enjoyed this movie. I saw it a few years ago, and if you had asked me what it was about, I would have forgotten.

    Of course, as with most of Kurosawa's films. Quite epic and awesome!

  2. I remember watching this movie back in the late 1980 or early 1981. What struck me most about the main character was how he took up the fight personally and although he was not the shogun, he died as bravely as any shogun would have for his clan.

    The movie theater I went to was quite deserted. There was a couple who sat right behind me talking and eating their snacks noisily. I got up and moved my seat at which they gasped at my 'rudeness.'

  3. A couple of points-
    Mifune wasn't in Kagemusha. His relationship with Kurosawa came to an unhappy ending many, many years before Kagemusha began shooting. The great Nakadai Tatsuya had the leading role. Interestingly enough, the title role was actually written by Kurosawa with Katsu Shintaro (of Zatoichi fame) in mind. However, Kurosawa and Katsu clashed, and after a couple of days of shooting, Katsu stormed off the set. Enter Nakadai... If you really love Japanese samurai films, check out Patrick Galloway's two fine books: Stray Dogs and Lone Wolves and his new release Warring Clans and Flashing Blades . Great books!

    And as for Nagashino, much research has come to light in recent years that debunks the 3,000 Oda gun and wave after wave of Takeda cavalry charges. These are Edo period myths and Turnbull ("bull" is quite appropriate) just regurgitates what other historians such as A.L. Sadler and Papinot have written before in English. The 3,000 gun and cav charges have been discussed on the Samurai Archives Forum in detail. You may want to check it out.

    Turnbull is fine for basic surveys of samurai history, but the problem is he does seem to lift a lot of stuff from other historians and has lots of errors in his books. He seems more interested in cranking out a crazy number of books every year and retaining his position as the king of Japanese Pop Samurai History over quality and accuracy. I was sad to read his new forward in the re-release of Sadler's book on Ieyasu, when in reality, Dr. Turnbull has borrowed so heavily, in some cases, nearly word for word, from Sadler's fine book. If you don't believe me, look at what Sadler has to say in the Ieyasu book about Sassa Narimasa and then see what Turnbull writes in Samurai Commanders II. Every time I try to give Turnbull "another chance" he publishes something else that blows it. Recently, in his Japanese castle book, he wrote that the reconstructed Fushimi Castle has been torn down (absolutely false-- proving he hasn't even visited the site) and we now suspect he also borrowed a little too heavily from the Samurai Archives Wiki for an entry. The word similarity is uncanny. I think I've talked about Turnbull before in a comment on your blog, but really he sucks.

  4. Obenjo, my mistake. I don't know why I thought he was in this movie. I am also watching Samurai I this weekend which does have Mifune so maybe I switched them.

    Regarding the theory of whether there was actually 3000 matchlockmen, I have heard that also. Some of the blogs or other sites that mentioned that there were not 3000 did not provide references. I have not checked out Samurai Archives regarding this. I hope there are several references that support the theory that there were not 3000 matchlockmen.

    Regarding the waves of cavalry charges, I certainly know that the movie and reality are far different. I am certain that Katsuyori and his smart generals would not keep sending their cavalry on suicide charges. I wouldn't be surprised if they tried one your two charges and then changed tactics.

    Do you accept the numbers of soldiers brought by Nobunaga of 30,000? Along with Ieyasu's approximately 8,000? If true, then I believe they outnumbered the Takeda about two to one.

  5. Obenjo, if what you are saying is true regarding the 3,000 arquebuses and I should refer to Samurai Archives, then Samurai Archives has conflicting information. Here is the link to the Samurai Archives battles page where is says that 3,000 arquebuses were used in the battle by the forces of Nobunaga and Ieyasu. Just pointing that out.


  6. The front page needs to be updated. Read the SA Forums. There's been lots of debate, and even the SA's Shogun realizes backs the 1,000 gun theory. The Samurai Archives Wiki Entry was updated some time ago to take into consideration the new theories on the number of guns and troops. The SA Wiki is really a better research tool than the SA's front page because it is a pain to update the HTML, which is being done, very slowly. To read the SA Wiki entry on Nagashino, go to http://wiki.samurai-archives.com/index.php?title=Battle_of_Nagashino

    To read more about the 1,000 gun theory and more in English, you have to get your hands on a hard-to-find Paul Varley article called "Oda Nobunaga, Guns and Early Modern Warfare in Japan". If you want the article, let me know how I should get it to you. Varley is quite respected and 100x the scholar Turnbull wishes he was.

  7. Whoa, I just went to the SA's main page and looked up Nagashino under "Famous Battles". It is updated and the same as the SA Wiki entry, and does also bring up the new theory about 1,000 guns and that the troop numbers should be halved. Did you read the entire SA entry?

  8. Below is from the Samurai Archives page link I showed you. Then there really is conflicting information on Samurai Archives. I did not go to Samurai Wiki. I went to Samurai-archives.com and clicked on the link for Battles, NOT "Samurai Battles. That should be corrected on their website. They have a link to "Battles" with info about Nagashino and apparently a link to "Samurai Battles" which has conflicting info. Below is the information for Nagashino, which I did read the entire article.

    28 June 1575 / Mikawa / Siege and Battle

    Takeda Katsuyori (12,000)
    Oda Nobunaga (30,000)/Tokugawa Ieyasu (8,000)

    In the summer of 1575, Takeda Katsuyori led his army into the Tokugawa domain and laid siege to Nagashino Castle, a locally important strongpoint that had changed hands a number of times in the past few years. The castle's defenders managed to resist the initial Takeda attacks and, thanks to the heroic efforts of a certain Torii Sune'emon, managed to alert Tokugawa Ieyasu of their plight, and the latter convinced Oda Nobunaga to commit to an all-out battle with the Takeda. When faced with the appearance of a numerically superior enemy force, Katsuyori, over the objections of his veteran commanders, opted to attack. Thanks to superior firepower (as many as 3,000 arquebuses were used in the battle) and good positon, Oda Nobunaga and Tokugawa Ieyasu crushed the Takeda attack and relieved Nagashino Castle. Most of the famous Takeda generals present were killed in the battle and the offensive power of the Takeda was severly crippled (having lost around 10,000 men). Oda was now free to fully turn his attentions elsewhere, leaving Ieyasu to contain the battered Takeda.

    KIA: (Takeda) Takeda Nobuzane, Baba Nobufusa, Yamagata Masakage, Naito Masatoyo, Hara Masatane, Sanada Nobutsuna, Sanda Masateru, Kasai Mitsuhide, Wada Narishige, Yonekura Shigetsugu, Atobe Shigemasa, ect...

  9. When I clicked on the "archived" battle section, I see what you mean. However, the first thing that hits you after clicking "battles" is:
    This is an archive of the original "Battles" section. For the newest updated version, please see the
    Samurai Archives Wiki

    The entries for the samurai battle section are linked directly to the SA-Wiki. I don't know why the archives section is still even up there unless not all the entries have been transferred and updated to the SA Wiki.

    And regardign my offer to provide you with a PDF copy of the Varley article, if you want it, I still need an email address from you. ;)

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  11. Kagemusha is still a great movie. I love it. Obenjo has stated earlier aboout the Varley article which I do have. Thomas Conlan mentions about the new theory too in his book Samurai Warrior. He mentions that Sakuma nobumori sent a message to the Takeda about defecting. Never happened. The Takeda bought the trick.

    Another great book is by Owada Tetsuo sengoku 10 Dai Kassen no Nazo. Both armies were smaller than orginally thought and this makes sense since there were smaller amount of guns used.

    Also for the Takeda, the Kosaka stayed home to guard Kenshin or any any bozo.

  12. I can agree with the smaller numbers especially the number of guns. I would question the theory that the total numbers should be halved. Originally the Takeda were said to have invaded with 15,000. Halving that to only 7,500 for an invasion force seems to me hard to believe.

  13. Why would you question the smaller number of troops? I certainly wouldn't. Let's think about this from the following angle.

    If the Takeda threw in the numbers that some of the older historical accounts would have you believe into this 1575 battle, then sure, the core of the Takeda army would have been destroyed, leaving a hollow shell that could have easily been smashed by Nobunaga and Ieyasu at pretty much any time. Instead, the Takeda remained a potent threat and fought on until the spring of 1582.
    Do you understand what I am getting at? While the defeat at Nagashino was indeed stunning, it hardly spelled the end of the Takeda. They had enough manpower to hold out for nearly 7, yes that's 7 more years!

    A lot of troop numbers are inflated in Meiji period histories of Sengoku battles as the Japanese Imperial Army's General Staff published studies of these battles and for whatever reason, sometimes clashes and figures were embellished to make it look like these battles were bigger than they really were. To what purpose this served, I can't say. All I can say is that a lot of these numbers and exaggerated studies that the IJAGS did are still used to provide the backbone of info in some of Gakken's Rekishi Gunzo series books and it seems that Turnbull scooped a lot of his info from these books.

  14. If all sengoku troop numbers are generally inflated then it would make more sense. I guess I was just surprised based on reading so many other books and the numbers they mention. An invading force with "only" 7,500 troops seemed small. But if that was not an unusual number during sengoku then OK.

    Also, I do understand that the Takeda fighting ability were not destroyed at Nagashino and they did endure for another seven years. To me it seems they were no longer the threat they were before Nagashino however. Correct me if I'm wrong but they never again sent troops outside of Kai ever again.

  15. It took me awhile to accept the new theory. Conlan, Owada, and Varley convinced me. Also I had to reread Gyuichi's version as well.

    One book I would like to get my hands on is by Owada Tetsuo Nagashino Shitaragahara no tatakai. It is expensive, but from what I heard, a must have. Also I added your blog to my blog link.

  16. Thanks. I assume that book is in Japanese?

  17. Yes sir, it is in Japanese.

  18. Sorry it has taken me awhile to respond as I was away on business and didn't see these newer comments.

    I just briefly want to clarify one thing-- not all Sengoku troop numbers are inflated. The IJAGS inflated the numbers of some battles, but not all. I guess it really depends and you have to look at each battle and sources on a case by case basis.

    And yeah, apart from some minor raiding and skirmishing, Katsuyori didn't do much outside of his provinces of Kai, Suruga and Shinano.

  19. Thanks for the info. I will keep that in mind when reading about the various conflicts. I am currently reading Karl Friday's book Samurai Warfare and the State and it is very informative so far.