The story follows two greedy peasants in feudal Japan, Tahei and Matashichi, who are returning home from a failed attempt to profit from a war between neighboring clans. En Route they encounter the remnants of the defeated tribe that consists, most notably, of a famous General and a Princess who are hiding out in a fortress in the mountains. General Rokurota Makabe and Princess Yuki need to escape into allied territory with their large supply of gold so that they can rebuild their shattered clan. To do this the Peasants are tricked into helping them, with the promise that they will receive a large share of the gold when the destination is reached. Along the way, the General's prowess is put to the test as he must guide the 4, and later 5 with the inclusion of a freed slave, through close encounters with the pursuing enemy, and out of difficult situations the bumbling peasants manage to get them into. Written by
In the opening sequence the two villagers see a soldier killed by cavalry. Within moments the soldier is stiffened with a hand in the air, despite the fact that it takes hours for rigor mortis to set in. See more »
Get away from me! You stink of dead bodies!
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"Hide stones among stones, men among men" -- General Rokurota Makabe
The hidden fortress starts with it's two main characters Tahei and Matakashi (played by Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) walking through a war torn country side. They have just escaped from an internment camp after a recent great battle. The two had been forced to dig graves as prisoners and they are already, at the start of the movie, at wit's end. They soon become frustrated with each other and their situation that they set out in opposite directions, only to be both recaptured shortly thereafter. After a prisoner mass uprising and subsequent exodus, the two find themselves completely unscathed but monumentally stunned amongst the dozens of dead.. and piles of pillaged gold.
Unable to carry much in their escape, their sense of scheming is palpable and a testament to the quality of direction. While walking through the woods they come upon a camping warlord, General Makabe (played by Kurosawa mainstay, Toshiro Mifune), who they enlist to help them steal the gold. Makabe has other ideas. They later meet up with the fiercely sexy Princess Yukihime (Misa Uehara) who playfully defends herself from the two anti-heroes, smacking all insolent fools with a reed and secretly running the show. The two rogues suffer through constant harassment with wide eyed fear and cowardice that Kurosawa somehow makes endearing.
It was said that Kurosawa would spend the mornings of the writing process thinking up impossible situations for the two rogue protagonists and the production crew would have the afternoon to plot out how the two would escape from certain death; The pair survive numerous captures, a prison riot, multiple rock slides (!) and more often than not each other during a sometimes cathartic, sometimes hilarious series of events. The Hidden Fortress is an archetypal dark comedy and could be well adapted in the future because of it's intelligent dynamics and carefree yet succinct episodes (the first Star Wars employs much of the same wide open sense of adventure).
While being one of the lightest of Kurosawa's films, it still has the underlying fatalism and rebelliousness that is inherent of much of interesting Japanese cinema. For examples, see much of mainstream (and probably most non mainstream) anime, as well as the nihilistic cult films of today like the recently Americanized Ringu (The Ring) and Kyua (Cure) by Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation). The Hidden Fortress is worth a viewing by any patient film buff.
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