In Kurosawa's late career film Kagemusha, a thief, rescued from crucifixion to act as a double for a powerful warlord, finds he has a bigger cross to bear when the warlord dies and he has to impersonate him for a while to mitigate the consequences of an untimely death. Like Shakespeare, and perhaps like a lot of other great artists, Kurosawa has the ability to take oft told tales and squeeze a lot more out of them. And this movie is a good example.
At it's heart, it seems to ask the question of how one does well as an impostor. And that's a question that appeals to a wide public because, after all, each of us often is an impostor, having to take up different roles in life. Whether it's one of a hardworking student, a sincere worker, a dutiful parent or a powerful leader, at one time or another, if not most of the time, one feels its a role that one is playing. In some roles, one's contribution is more symbolic, in others it is more personal. And as seen in the film, the symbolic contributions are often easier, it is the roles with personal contribution that one runs a greater risk of failing as an impostor. So how does one succeed as an impostor? There is no single recipe for success. For a beloved grandchild it is different, for the inner circle of advisors it is different, for rival warlords it is different, while it is yet different for one's mistresses. But finally, the one who needs to be convinced is oneself and that is the ultimate arbiter of success in this process of impostoring. And this happens not with external appearance, nor with words and actions, but when one really believes at heart. And that, to me, seems to be the essence of the movie.