Widely remembered as the film that inspired George Lucas?s Star Wars, The Hidden Fortress is one of Akira Kurosawa?s most popular works, a thrillingly choreographed and cleverly written tale of chivalry and greed in mediev... more »al Japan, featuring Toshiro Mifune as a weary general in charge of protecting a princess (Misa Uehara).« less
"I have to confess my bias at the start: Akira Kurosawa is easily one of my two or three favorite directors. If forced to sit down and do a list of my 25 favorite films, SEVEN SAMURAI would be in a tie for first, and two or three others would join it on the list. This was the first movie that Kurosawa made that was widescreen, and therefore the first that will derive maximum benefit from DVD. (Read through the early reviews of the DVD of SEVEN SAMURAI to see some of the confusion over this.) His use of the wider angle is magnificent, presenting the view with extraordinary vistas again and again. Kurosawa never seemed to struggle with the technical aspects of filmmaking, and would later make a similarly effortless transition to color.This is one of Kurosawa's finest films. It is difficult to say that it is his best, since his very best films are among the greatest ever made. Suffice it to say, that the film bears in every way the mark of greatness. The camera work is flawless. Though black and white, the film is gorgeous to look at every moment. The acting is impeccable, with Mifune giving a somewhat difference performance in this one. If we are more accustomed to think of him as a more fiery character, as in RASHOMON or SEVEN SAMURAI or THRONE OF BLOOD, in this one he is magisterial and aristocratic.I think the parallels to STAR WARS are rather overblown, and anyone coming to this film looking for tones of George Lucas rather than Akira Kurosawa just may find themselves disappointed. Yes, there is a princess, and yes, there are some very small plot parallels, and yes, there are two comic characters included to provide light entertainment and to move the plot along. But none of these are crucial elements of THE HIDDEN FORTRESS. But I do think the STAR WARS references bring up a very interesting point about Kurosawa: more than anyother foreign filmmaker in history, Kurosawa is the one with the easist relationship with American culture. People who normally dislike foregin film can respond powerfully to his films. I once showed SEVEN SAMURAI to a group of high school boys. These kids were almost in a state of mutiny, because 1) the film was black and white and 2) it was subtitled. But by the end of the evening they were all entranced and had become fans of the film. I think the reason they responded so easily was partly because Kurosawa was a cinematic genius, but also because he had absorbed so much of American culture and film technique in his films. Just as many American films have borrowed directly from his work, so he borrowed from American sources. Many of his films bear evidence of extensive exposure to film noir and American Westerns, and several of his plots are borrowed from American and Western sources. One example: much has been made of the fact that A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was based on Kurosawa's YOJIMBO, but it is not as often noted that YOJIMBO was based on Dashiell Hammett's RED HARVEST, in which the Continental Op goes to the town of Personville (or, as a Brooklyn-accented character in the book pronounces it, Poisonville) and turns two warring criminal factions against each other.But if you haven't seen this film, do so. Without any question one of Kurosawa's very finest films."
Kurosawa's Swashbuckling Film
D. C. Ober | Boston, MA | 01/28/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Of all the directing masters Akira Kurosawa is arguably the greatest. No matter how much praise and hyperbole is shoveled onto his films they always surprise me by how good they are. Not good in a, "this was phenomenal for the 1950's," but good as in, "this is better than just about anything we're seeing today." While watching this movie I was trying to think of an American director who even comes close, but no one quite matches Kurosawa. If Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick had a street fight in Heaven I gurantee you Kurosawa would kick Kubrick in the nuts and decapitate him inside of a minute.
This film is often described as the impetus for Star Wars. After seeing the prequel trilogy I half expected The Hidden Fortress to be an exact blueprint for Episode IV, but they're really not that similar. It turns out that George Lucas was talented back in the day. If you're looking for simularities you'll find them, but if Lucas himself hadn't mentioned how much this film influenced him I doubt anyone would be drawing parallels. For example, the two peasant characters, Tahei and Matakishi, are supposed to be the inpirations for R2-D2 and C-3PO, but they're not similar in the least. Tahei and Matakishi are slow, bumbling, greedy, and selfish. They're a far cry from Lucas' creations. R2-D2 is the butch in the relationship while C-3PO is his more feminine partner. (I have to give Lucas credit for having the guts to put a gay robot couple in a film way back in the 70's, and it's even more amazing because no one has had the guts to do it a second time. Perhaps one day gay robots will get the screen time they deserve.)
The story involves a princess and her general who are trapped behind enemy lines and must make it back to their own land. Of all the Kurosawa films I've seen this is the most commercial, and should satisfy fans of old action and adventure. Of particular interest is Toshiro Mifune who is a Kurosawa regular. He plays General Rokurota - an all around badass. When his party gets stopped by soldiers trying to hunt them down he quickly kills a couple of them, and then grabs a horse to go hunt down the two trying to escape, all the while letting out a warrior's cry. This action sequence ends in a duel between Rokurota and an opposing general he has a competitive but friendly relationship with. The duel is one of the greatest fight scenes in cinema, and not just because of the fine choreography (although that too), but because of how interesting these two characters are. They respect each other, but if they met on a battlefield then duty would prevail.
This is much more of an action adventure film than something like Roshomon, but Kurosawa still manages to throw in a lot of themes. The princess has a slight epiphony while walking among the peasants, and decides to save a girl before she becomes a sex slave; Tahei and Matakishi are both morally bankrupt but they still seem to serve a purpose in society; and General Rokurota and his rival both seem to say something about the merits and limits of honor. These themes are great and add some depth, but are subservient to sheer adventure of the film, which is how it should be.
This is a great swashbuckling film that is hands down better than any action film made in the last twenty years. Some have come close, but I think most will agree that nothing beats The Hidden Fortress. It is absolutely incredible that with all of the technical achievements over the years Kurosawa's action-adventure piece still holds up so well over the years. Incredible."
Matt Howe | Washington, DC | 06/20/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I'd heard about THE HIDDEN FORTRESS as a young man whenever the roots of STAR WARS were discussed. FORTRESS is always mentioned as the film that influenced George Lucas the most in crafting his STAR WARS films. It wasn't until last year that I actually decided to rent it and see what it and its director Akira Kurosawa were all about. THE HIDDEN FORTRESS was my first introduction to the incredible direction of Akira Kurosawa. I've gone on to watch several of his other films and am now a huge fan. I also discovered that quite a few Hollywood movies have their roots in Kurosawa films. Interestingly enough, an interview with George Lucas has been included on the disk as a bonus, which completes the HIDDEN FORTRESS/STAR WARS connection.FORTRESS is a fast-moving film. It's story is reminiscent of the serials of the 1930's (including "wipes" to transition from scene to scene -- again, another technique that Lucas borrowed for STAR WARS). Our heroes leap out of frying pan into fire on several occasions. The Japanese style of acting (at least in 1958 when this film was made) is very stylized and little over the top or "stagey". However, the stylized performances only add to the wonderful, other-worldly atmosphere of HIDDEN FORTRESS. That's one thing that I enjoyed about this Kurosawa film: it definitely takes the viewer to a world he has not seen before ... a weird, ancient and savage old-Japan.Those are my thoughts on this film. This was the first Kurosawa I ever saw and I was very impressed. Immediately I rented YOJIMBO and HIGH AND LOW and SEVEN SAMURAI and went on to be a fan."
Jeffery McElroy | 02/13/2000
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Just letting you guys know, Criterion will be releasing the definitive version of this film on DVD in a few months!"
Anamorphic splendor... and fun!
Jeffery McElroy | Punta Gorda, FL United States | 01/21/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is Kurosawa's fist use of widescreen, and it looks glorious. While he managed to simulate wider shots in his past films with an academy aspect ratio, this, rife with innumerable extras and an epic landscape, is just awesome spectacle. Like all good Kurosawa though, the story is simple, elemental, yet definitive. The two peasants/thieves are an absolute riot, and Mifune comes across with amazing presence... as fantastically usual.
Criterion does the film justice with an excellent transfer, but with little in the way of supplementary material, especially when compared to recent releases --the introduction by George Lucas on this disk is great though. For the price of this disk, the lack of audio commentary, etc... is unfortunate.
Truly a character driven story, the film boasts of people that are crass, yet lovable. Not concerned with the apocalypse like Kurosawa is in some previous and later works, Hidden fortress offers a rousing adventure, which encapsulates classic story telling at its stylistic best. As such, this is one of the favorites in my personal Kurosawa collection.