The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress ★★★★★

Star Wars fans owe a whole lot more to Akira Kurosawa than I thought we would have. Viewing The Hidden Fortress made me realize just how much Lucas "borrowed" from Kurosawa just to write the plot and characters of the initial installment to his classic space opera. Heck, I might even go so far as to say that I love The Hidden Fortress just a tiny bit more than A New Hope. While the latter remains an immovable part of my cinematic life, the comparisons are nearly impossible to ignore. While I had hoped that I would be able to judge The Hidden Fortress solely on its own merits, the more I watched of it, the more I realized that Star Wars was the exact same film, just set in space. There are a ton of set elements and action set pieces that are derived from this film, and George Lucas stating that it was a mere "coincidence" that both films had a princess as a central character is either denial at work or an outright lie. I'm fairly certain that Kurosawa's name at least should have been given special thanks in the film's closing credits, because fans and Lucas himself owe absolutely everything to him and this film.

While The Hidden Fortress isn't necessarily the best Kurosawa film, it's an undeniably fantastic achievement in set pieces and action cinematography. Switch out the Death Star plans for a ton of gold and you have a fantastic premise that leads up to a classic rescue story. Toshiro Mifune is fantastic, as if I would have expected him to be anything less. Shimmering black and white widescreen cinematography pan out across landscapes and action scenes that allow moments to breathe as they should. There are plenty of comedic moments between the two focal peasants that are reminiscent of C-3P0 and R2-D2, giving further evidence that Lucas almost carbon copied this film. I'm not saying that he outright stole the entire film, and I do know that he briefly references his influence material in a brief line of dialogue in the film, but it's still a great reminder to go back and see where some great classics got their roots from. I think Lucas pulled out almost the entire tree with Star Wars, though. Maybe he should have given part of his multi billion dollar revenue to Kurosawa and his estate, because outside of one interview, it almost seems like he wants to pretend that this doesn't exist.

Nonetheless, The Hidden Fortress is a must-watch for fans of Star Wars, Akira Kurosawa, or just action films in general. It's a landmark piece that paved the way for many action films, solidifying itself as a blueprint for many modern directors, not only limited to Lucas. It's a classic masterwork with a fantastic original story, hallmarked with marvelous set pieces and stunning cinematography. Not necessarily as great and monumental as Seven Samurai, but still an important piece of cinema history- one that should not be forgotten by any true cinephile.

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