Akira Kurosawa, The Hidden Fortress

Written by Joe D on March 9th, 2008

What a great movie! I just saw it on TCM for the first time in many moons. Last time I saw The Hidden Fortress was at the Film Forum in NYC. This film works on many levels, Toshiro Mifune is as always, great, a super star of the silver screen! One of the greatest film actors of all time.

Toshiro In Trouble

Kurosawa is at the top of his game, emotion comes pouring off the screen in powerful and subtle ways. This film is an amazing amalgam of formal and spontaneous aesthetics, Japanese formal composition, the Princess in her court, and then the action of hiding out with the two peasants, it inspires deep feelings of loyalty, patriotism, friendship. Do these feelings exist, are they in our lives, I mean really, are they concrete parts of our existence or merely vaporous thoughts that disappear between your fingers like disapating smoke when you try to grasp them. When was the last time you had to defend your Princess against an army of killers?

Spunky Princess
Yet we all have instilled in us from birth, ideals that stongly influence us, our morality, our decision making, our life. Films like this one exercise our moral self and that is what gives them their power. Sacraficing one’s self to a higher cause, it’s not something we’re called upon to do often or ever. But would you? This is a basic question of human existence, of civilization, and it is beautifully expressed in The Hidden Fortress. Also the two peasants that exhibit all the human failings and foilbles, they’re greedy, lustful, envious, you name it, and they’re funny. By coincidence I happened to see Robert Altman’s Gossford Park recently. A great film that deals with the juxtaposition of the serving class and the ruling class at a mansion in the countrty. There is a whole tradition of servant/ master drama and comedy that both of these films are a part of. But Hidden Fortress also works purely as an Adventure story and a Spectacle. It’s a magnificent film, maybe my favorite Kurosawa film. As everyone by now probably knows Star Wars bears a striking resemblence to this film, the peasants are replaced by bickering robots, there’s a feisty Princess and some Heroes to save her.

Ultra Cool Bad Guy!
Star Wars is populated with a lot of characters that you can sell as action figures and toys but the basic plot is the same. I think Lucas has acknowledged this, he did an introduction to the Criterion DVD release but I haven’t seen it. Sergio Leone remarked in the press that he saw Yojimbo and was inspired to make A Fistfull Of Dollars. Kurosawa sued and won the rights to that film for Japan. Leone pointed out that that plot device was used by Dashiell Hammett in The Glass Key but to no avail, he had to pay up. I guess Lucas was smart enough to keep his mouth shut, at least while Kurosawa was still alive. But I think The Hidden Fortressis a vastly superior film to Star Wars. I wonder if Kurosawa ever read any Joseph Campbell?

Lucas, you owe me big time!