Though released by Criterion (though out of print), “The Third Shadow Warrior” (Daisan no Kagemusha, directed by Inoue Umetsuge [Cobra], 1963) is not part of its “rebel samurai swordplay” set, but similarly deglamorizes the warrior caste and the bushido (way of the sword) ethos.
A few decades before the triumph of the Tokugawa clan, a peasant (with some samurai lineage) Kyonosuke (Ichikawa Raizo) is delighted by the offer to become a samurai. He is less delighted when he learns that he was recruited because of his likeness to the local lord, Yasutaka (Ichikawa Raizo [Enjo, An Osaka Story, Samurai Vendetta]). He is the third man trained to play the part of the lord, though the one with the greatest physical resemblance (not surprising with the same actor playing the lord and the third shadow).
Lord Yasutaka loses an eye in battle, so his doubles must forfeit an eye each to maintain the resemblance. One balks and attempts to run away. Quickly slain, that leaves two doubles… and after the lord has an arm cut off, Kuonosuke takes his place.
The battle scenes are not great, but aren’t bad with widescreen panache from cinematographer Honda Shozo (Samurai Vendetta, various Zatôichi movies), and Kyonsuke’s engulfment in what was a role he was playing is convincingly hazardous, leading to an ending as bleak as Kurosawa’s later “Kagemusha.”
Ichikawa is excellent in both his roles, and the two leading female roles are interestingly enacted by Banri Masayo (the concubine Kohagi) and Hisuru Takachiho (the princess who will be married to the strongest lord in the area). The former is a romantic, the latter a realist very aware of her status as an asset for her father’s geopolitical security.
©2016, Stephen O Murray