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The Hidden Fortress is the Kurosawa film with the lightest tone. It's almost
the most mainstream and entertaining. So for those who may have found other
Kurosawa films to be too deep and poetic (if this applies to you, you're a
fool) you'll be more likely to enjoy this. Even though there's a lot of
comedy, mostly provided by the peasants, The Hidden Fortress still has all
the power and uniqueness that all Kurosawa films have.
There are some amazing locations used. The rock slide provided for some real amusement. Toshiro Mifune gives a much more toned down and subtle performance than we normally see from him. What Mifune offers in Hidden Fortress is true screen presence. Without even saying a word he has your full attention. I love how Kurosawa plays the characters as well. The Princess is not a damsel in distress. In any American or British film of the 50s, she would have been nothing more than that. In this she's quiet for most of the movie, but then she'll come out of nowhere and show more power and confidence than The General. The peasant characters of Tahei and Matakishi are more than comic relief. They are primarily used for a laugh, but I thought there characters were unique as well. The story is told from their point of view, and they are essentially heroes, yet they do nothing but complain. They're greedy and selfish. These aren't characteristics that would normally be used for heroes, but Kurosawa makes them likeable to the audience. Some people have said this movie needed more action. I think the action it has is more than enough. The chase scene that leads into The General's encounter with his nemesis remains one of the best sequences Kurosawa ever Directed. The choreography in the swordfight holds up against most of The Seven Samurai's fight scenes, and it still tops the type of fights that have become tedious and repetitive in modern day movies. That fight is a great example of how to nail the Hero vs. Villain energy. Akira Kurosawa can do no wrong.
Those who think that Kurosawa could only direct
dramatic films need to see The Hidden
Fortress. It is an
exiting, funny, and extremely
film. George Lucas cites The Hidden
Fortress as the
prime inspiration for the Star Wars
Two cowardly soldiers Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) flee from a battle. The two then set up camp for the night, but soon they discover a bar of gold next to their camp. The two begin fighting over it, but before they can decide who gets it, a mysterious man called Rokurota (Toshiro Mifune) appears. He asks the two to help him transport a wagon full of gold and the Lady Yukihime (Misa Uehara) across enemy lines so that they can establish their kingdom again.
This film is a blast and is filled with plenty of action and humor. A departure from Kurosawa's usual dramatic films, but excellent cinema nonetheless.
Any Kurosawa film is worth watching, but the focus of interest shifts
from project to project. This time around, his concern is the new
aspect ratio of 'cinemascope' copied and renamed by Toho. Kurosawa is
first a visual storyteller who scripts in pictures, each one
dramatically framed. All his life until here, that frame was the same,
but all of a sudden it changed.
It is a matter of there being three territories where there was formally one. The new territories are on the left and right, which in the original cinerama were actually two additional cameras. One really needs to study his framing in the old format to understand how significant this challenge was. He was master -- indeed largely the creator -- of a visual grammar and the rules had changed.
As with all his scripts, the story reflects his own challenges. So we have a story about three territories and a journey that spans them all. The 'middle' territory is under attack, and our characters must leave their fortress and go all the way from left to right to survive. (Notice the symbols he uses for these three klans.) The two hapless peasants represent to the story what actors represent to the 'real' enterprise of film-making: relatively ignorant, gold-chasers, likely to turn on each other, and liable to go where they are not supposed to. The story is told from their perspective. The gold in the story is hidden in sticks. The gold in the film is hidden in similar harvesting of nature by the eye.
(Mifune's pride and Kurosawa's control were much like that shown here between Mifune's samurai and the peasants. Mifune would eventually run away from Kurosawa's -- probably much needed -- overbearing command. Mifune would end up wealthy and celebrated in Japan. Kurosawa not so.)
At the end of the story, the peasant-actors are on a grand stair that mirrors a similar stair we saw earlier which was the scene of a huge conflict (in turn mirroring the battle on Eisenstein's Odessa steps in 'Potemkin'). But this second time, we are at peace, the frame is serene. Kurosawa has wrestled this new eye and mastered it.
Kurosawa did not respond to the wide format like his American peers who preferred awesome panoramas. His approach to framing had always been layered, usually three layers of activity in fore, middle and background. Here, he was able to relax the axis so that the layers did not have be so much on top of one another. And he reinvented his strategy of panning of motion: compare a running sequence here to the famous woodcutter's running in the beginning of 'Rashomon.' Look at how he panned the General's attack on horseback. He still does diagonals, but fewer, less steep and with less static import. He now has more natural horizontals in his greytone/greystone arrangements so has to create more artificial verticals.
Obligatory Star Wars comment:
I am sure Lucas' film school professors would have explained the relationship of story and visual challenge this way. So that is the real template Lucas took in conceiving his project. His goal was a similar marriage of the visual (space) with story (Joseph Campbell inspired myth). His hidden gold is that miraculous alchemical element in Jedi blood.
Legendary director Akira Kurosawa has made a lot of great films, many
of which have gone on to inspire whole areas of cinema. While Hidden
Fortress doesn't represent his best, most influential or most important
work; it's definitely an important movie in film history in it's own
right, and besides that, it's a damn good movie to boot. I was most
surprised at the amount of comic relief present in the movie. When
watching a Kurosawa film, I always expect it to be a serious affair; so
the comedy in this movie made for a surprise, which was, on the whole,
a good surprise as like most things in Kurosawa's films; it works. The
film has become most famous recently for the many parallels that it has
with the masterpiece 'Star Wars', and it has become well documented
that this film was a major influence on said movie, which is shown most
clearly by the fact that a lot of the story is shown through the eyes
of two bumbling people that aren't all that relevant to the central
plot, and the style of editing; which George Lucas adopted many times
in his epic trilogy.
The plot follows a princess who must be escorted across enemy lines by her general. Two greedy peasants join the escort on the promise of a reward of gold. Like Star Wars, the plot here is relatively simple; and it's the way that the story is portrayed, not the story itself, that makes this movie great. Despite it's simplicity, Kurosawa gives it the style of an epic; and it really feels like one. Kurosawa regular, Toshirô Mifune heads a great ensemble cast; all of which do well in their roles. Kurosawa had a great talent for pulling great performances out of everyone in his films, and he shows that talent excellently here. The cinematography is excellent, and the master director has managed to capture some truly stunning landscapes, which serve in adding beauty to the picture. This film is, of course, in black and white; and that is Kurosawa at his best in my opinion. While I loved 'Ran' and it's vibrant colours, black and white allows Kurosawa to blend atmosphere into his films, and they're always the better for it. On the whole, Kurosawa is a genius - and this is one of his best films.
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
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
In the Sixteenth Century, in Japan, Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matakishi
(Kamatari Fujiwara), two rascals and greedy peasants, are trying to
return to the city of Akizuki through Hayakawa, after an unsuccessful
attempt of making money with the war between the clans of Yamana and
Akizuki. While warming themselves in a fire, they find gold with the
symbol MT. Suribachi of the Akizuki hidden in the firewood, and they
decide to search for other branches. Tahei and Matakishi meet General
Rokurota Makabe (Toshirô Mifune), who is secretly protecting Princess
Yukihime (Misa Uehara), and without knowing their identities, they
accept to escort and help them in the transportation of the gold
through the enemy lines to Akizuki.
"Kakushi toride no san akunin" is a delightful movie, indeed another masterpiece of master Akira Kurosawa. The screenplay is amazingly wonderful, having action, comedy and code of honor. Toshirô Mifune is perfect in the role of the samurai that is assigned to protect his princess no matter the cost of the life of his young sister; Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara are hilarious in the role of two greedy rascals, ready to betrayal, cheat and risk their miserable lives for gold, and responsible for the funniest moments along the story; the very gorgeous Misa Uehara is stunning in the role of a princess, showing personality and a very noble behavior. Summarizing, it is a perfect movie, with fantastic locations and costumes and magnificent choreography of fights. I intended to use the saying "Hide stones among stones, men among men" said by Makabe to the peasants as the title of my review, but I noted that another IMDb user had the same idea. I read on the cover of the DVD that George Lucas inspired his franchising "Star Wars" in this movie. This was the first time that I watched "Kakushi toride no san akunin", which was unknown for me, and I really recommend it to any audience. My vote is ten.
Title (Brazil): "A Fortaleza Escondida" ("The Hidden Fortress")
This is one of the most hilarious movies I have ever seen. There is just too much to write about, so just rent it, or better yet, buy it! Toshiro Mifune's performance as Rokorota alone is worth it. His "duel scene" in which he battles general Hoye is fantastic. I guess George Lucas based Star Wars on this wonderful movie. I've already watched this movie 6 times, Star Wars 3. I just can't recommend it enough. Hidden Fortress & Rashomon are 2 of my favorite Kurasawa/Mifune collaborations. Rent them both & have fun!
Such a fine film maker can hardly help but make a fine movie like this one. It seemed odd to me only in the fact that the plot seemed so UN-Japan like. The most interesting thinks to look for are the similarities to Sergio Leone films: A man who obviously was greatly influenced by Kurosawa. What Leone may not have known, is that those long shots of unmoving fighting men waiting to make a thrust or cut with a sword is very true to the actual way that Samurai fought. Cowboys on the other hand generally shot from behind trees and rocks. For an interesting comparison, watch "Hidden Fortress" followed by "The Good, The Bad, And the Ugly". It will be be an enlightening experience.
I'm not sure that it is helpful knowing that George Lucas found inspiration
for his `Star Wars' films in Kurosawa's historical epic, `The Hidden
Fortress' (1958). Oh, there are a number of matters of content that seem
quite similar. Though Kurosawa's story takes place in sixteenth century
Japan and Lucas sets his in space in the future, the basic struggles are
same-the restoration of power to a princess and her clan. Some would
Toshiro Mifune's General Rokurota Makabe to Harrison Ford's Hans Solo in
`Star Wars' (1977), though there may be more commonality shared with Mark
Hamill's Luke Skywalker. And the two peasant farmers, pawns in the turmoil
of sixteenth century Japanese civil wars, are easily identified as
precursors of the `Star Wars' droids, R2-D2 and C3PO.
However, when all is said and done, the comparisons are only superficial. It may be more constructive to note some aspects of humor and character that are utilized in general. Kurosawa has always been willing to develop exaggerated characters. The peasant farmers, with their quick shifts between cowardice, bickering , and thievery are good examples of this. Certainly the first two of these traits were incorporated in the character of C3PO (the mechanical humanoid), but R2-D2 shows none of these characteristics. There is, however, an overall sense of humor that permeates both `The Hidden Fortress' and the `Star Wars' films-as well as a strong sense of nobility in the central characters, Rokurota and Skywalker.
That said, `The Hidden Fortress' seems to me to have clearly been made by a superior filmmaker. Both are good at telling the story. The `Star Wars' films rely heavily on special effects, to the extent, I think, that these are the central features of the films. `The Hidden Fortress,' while a relatively light weight work for Kurosawa, involves much more subtle character development achieved by means of acting skill revealed through visual composition and unenhanced camera work.
This was Kurosawa's first use of Tohoscope, a Japanese widescreen process. And he uses the screen frequently to develop character. Over and over again he uses the wide screen to develop and reveal character. The peasant farmers are certainly more complex than the droids, though they are simplistically exaggerated. Kurosawa chose to explore the situation of these piteous beings, buffeted about in the feudal wars of sixteenth century Japan, in visually reinforced wide screen long shots in those final scenes on the plains.
The code of the samurai is central to an understanding of `The Seven Samurai' (1954), `Yojimbo' (1961), and `Sanjuro' (1962), and even `Rashomon' (1954). These are all great films centered around the samurai class in Japan's past. From the ninth century, samurai warriors followed a strict code of ethical behavior known as `bushido,' which remained orally transmitted for generations. Briefly it is a way of life in which the warrior's honor and purpose are tied closely to the needs of his master. In this respect, he was to be selfless. His was not to understand or concern himself with politics-only to defend with honor the family or clan he served. For such a man the ideal was to be without fear-to always move forward in his employer's interest-without fear of death-only fear of dishonor. Toshiro Mifune's character in `The Hidden Fortress' is a military general, but his devotion to the creed and to his princess can be explained relative to this code. His daring, too, extends from that. So, too, his reputation reflects that of an accomplished samurai. An especially strong scene in this regard is the duel scene in which Rokurota's skill and bravery are what are prized and respected by his opponent.
Above all, The Hidden Fortress remains a great adventure permeated with humor and nobility. While the force in the `Star Wars' sense is never mentioned, it remains a tacit part of Rokurota's nobility.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
According to George Lucas, this film was his inspiration for Star Wars.
When watching this film, it's easy to see the influence. You have the
forerunners of R2-D2 and C-3PO in the form of two greedy slaves who attempt
to escape from a conquered province. Along the way they meet a military
general who is trying to smuggle the defeated princess out of the province
and into safety. Sound familiar?
I think part of the film's greatness is the excitement that it builds up without the typical fight scenes. In fact there are only 2 fights that I can remember, but nevertheless they are fantastic. The tension comes from whether or not our heroes will be captured by the villainous army. And they come so close it makes your pulse rise and your heart beat faster.
In addition the John Ford-type cinemetography excentuating the landscape is beautiful. As in all Kurosawa films, nature becomes a character in itself as important as the actors.
Probably the best part of the movie though is the honor that these warriors possess. They are governed by codes of conduct that Americans haven't seen in YEARS. It's a nice change to see two great generals fight to the death with the loser being spared. And he gets angry about living!!! I only wish there were more movies like this one.
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