The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress

This film is, like Yojimbo, light fare for Kurosawa. It's an adventure story. There are themes here, important and intelligent points, but the focus is on the comic relief characters. Its themes of hidden depths and open subterfuges require their roles to be prominent, because they are the most gullible (therefore the perspective from which it is best to frame the subterfuges) and with the thickest layer of obfuscation around their worth. In a bit of almost cynical humanism, it can be said that their worth is in their lack of it; it requires their flaws to be as prominent as the general's loyalty to give the princess a full perspective of the human race.

This is what passes for light fare for Kurosawa. It felt somewhat lighter because the build up spends so much time on the two characters who cannot grow through the story. Their moment comes at the very end, and even that is something of a punchline. The princess's struggle (on a personal level, not her fleeing for her life) is not entirely clear. Certainly her attitude earlier on is a bit more strident, but there are only subtle hints--other than one particularly powerful moment--of her even needing to change her perspective. In retrospect, all of the parts are there, but during the story, the focus on action and comedy over the drama makes it seem more abrupt.

The action, speaking of, culminates in and possibly apotheoses in the spear fight. From the way the crowd dances around them, reacting to their every move, to the cutting of the fabric walls, to the whirling weapons, it's a perfect action sequence, and it ends not with gore or some absurd one-liner. It ends with a moment of character and a meaningful moment in the plot, buried under spectacle, just like the rest of the film.

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