The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress ★★★★★

It was a cold, rainy day today so I tried to talk my daughter into watching Yojimbo with me; She didn't really want to, so when I offered her the option of The Hidden Fortress instead, she jumped at it due to Misa Uehera's image on the poster. She spent the first twenty minutes asking "Why aren't there any ladies?" but then Princess Yuki showed up and she settled in to really enjoy this timeless adventure movie.

Let that sink in for a minute.

My six year old sat through and enjoyed a 2hr20m foreign, subtitled, black and white film from the 1950's set in feudal Japan.

If that and the fact that I'm also giving it five stars doesn't tell you all you need to know about its entertainment value...well, you're not very bright.

As I'm beginning to consider myself at least moderately well traveled in the films of Akira Kurosawa now, I can confidently say I much prefer his work in this tone than in drama. The Tohoscope Widescreen visuals certainly add to the movies epic fun.

Two bumbling peasants find themselves caught between both sides of a war. Narrowly avoiding death, they find themselves a streak of luck by stumbling onto the hidden gold of the Akizuki clan. However, their luck is short lived as General Rokurota Makabe strides in and leads them into an adventure they never wanted, in protection of the young but great Princess Yuki of the Akizuki clan.

I think I avoided this for a time as I was mistakenly under the impression that George Lucas had ripped the plot of wholesale for Star Wars. Happily, that's not the case and the similarities lie mostly in the tone and the idea of a handful of Rebels hiding out in hostile territory. What a film though!

The petty peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, make for a comedic and relate-able entrance for the audience, as the stature of both Toshiro Mifune's Rokurota and Misa Uehera's Princess Yuki grows continually throughout the movie. Yuki is a great princess, at one moment she is dismissed as too young by her council, in the next she completely reads their moves and outplays them, and her experience in the land and with people shows her deftness as a ruler to be expanding constantly. Mifune rules his early scenes with his usual physicality and command, but once Kurosawa unleashes him into the first action set piece it couldn't be more thrilling.

The Hidden Fortress possesses all the qualities you expect to see in a Kurosawa film of its time, and then some more. It's not just that, it's simply great entertainment. It's not a film you need to work to like, it has the fun, the humour, the intrigue, the natural drama (never overstated) and the action to keep even the most skeptical viewer in deep. A new favourite, and a new experience for my little girl as well!

That's right. By the time all the bad parents are letting their kids watch Child's Play and other shitty horror films, my daughter is going to be fully studied in the Golden Era of Japanese Cinema.

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