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HIDDEN FORTRESS, THE (KAKUSHI TORIDE NO SAN-AKUNIN) (director/writer: Akira Kurosawa; screenwriters: Shinobu Hashimoto/Ryuzo Kikushima/Hideo Oguni; cinematographer: Ichio Yamazeki; editor: Akira Kurosawa; music: Masuru Sato; cast: Toshiro Mifune (General Rokurota Makabe), Misa Uehara (Princess Yuki), Takashi Shimura (The Old General, Izumi Nagakura), Susumu Fujita (General Hyoe Tadokoro), Eiko Miyoshi (Old Lady-in-Waiting), Minoru Chiaki (Tahei), Kamatari Fujiwara (Matakishi); Runtime: 137; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Masumi Fujimoto/Akira Kurosawa; The Criterion Collection; 1958-Japan-in Japanese with English subtitles)
“Highly entertaining comical samurai film.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The highly entertaining comical samurai film is set during the civil war in feudal 16th-century Japan. George Lucas mentioned that The Hidden Fortress was his inspiration for Star Wars (the comic relief robots R2-D2 and C-3P0 were derived from the cowardly soldiers who tag along with Mifune). Cowriter and director Akira Kurosawa (“Throne of Blood”/ “Rashomon”/Yojimbo”) effectively uses the wide-screen format for the first time in this black and white photographed film and has fun providing the film with a treatment of numerous cliff-hangers. It’s exuberant, comical and adventurous; a film that plays to Kurosawa’s greatest strengths: his ability to be innovative within the samurai genre and his splendid visuals. The storytelling goes from the traditional theatrical Noh in its music and in its thematic roots is grounded in the Kabuki play Kanjincho and, furthermore, it resembles a John Ford Western.

It opens with two cowardly inept soldier peasants (Kamatari Fujiwara & Minoru Chiaki) escaping from the battle where everyone was slaughtered and trying to make their way home. They are captured by the victors, the Yamana clan, and forced as slave laborers to search a pit for suspected gold. The two misfits escape during a mine attack and discover a stick of gold in a mountain spring. Then they stumble upon the fierce samurai general, Rokurota Makabe (Toshiro Mifune), and will tag along with the samurai when he promises the greedy twosome gold if they can lead him out of enemy territory. The noble samurai acts to protect the beautiful outspoken princess, Yuki (Misa Uehara), and helps her escape with her kingdom’s treasure across the enemy territory to her homeland of Hayakawa. Before reaching sanctuary there are a few adventures and battles, including an exciting spear duel between Makabe and rival general Tadokoro (Susumu Fujita).

This is one of Kurosawa’s “lesser” films, but one that is highly enjoyable.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”