In Medieval Japan, an elderly warlord retires, handing over his empire to his three sons. However, he vastly underestimates how the new-found power will corrupt them and cause them to turn on each other...and him.
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
The Hidden Fortress is a fine movie that deserves better than to be remembered as the inspiration for Star Wars. Two more dissimilar movies would hard to be imagined. The peasants bear a striking resemblance to Vladimir and Estragon in their infighting, negotiable affection for each other and their seeming inability to make any real progress toward any goal whatsoever. They are truly a venal pair, loveable only in their humanity and humor.
I saw The Hidden Fortress on the Criterion DVD. Beautiful print but no commentary outside of a brief interview with George Lucas distancing himself from the film's alleged influence on Star Wars. It would have been nice to hear interviews with surviving cast and crew or a knowledgeable historian. Criterion also made a terrible choice in not translating more of the credits. Only Kurosawa and Mifuni had the honor of an English translation. Surely Misa Uehara, Minoru Chaiki and Kamatari Fujiwara deserve to have their names known to we who lack basic Japanese. The Princess and the peasants help make this movie what it is. I gripe too much though. Without Criterion (and Netflix)I would not have been able to see this movie at all.
Again, The Hidden Fortress is a great movie that also happens to be great fun. Highly recommended
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