The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress ★★★★★

For some reason, I always go into Akira Kurosawa films feeling that they might be a bit of a chore. I just don't face the prospect with quite the same level of excitement as I do for, say, a Lone Wolf and Cub film. This is a bit silly, because Seven Samurai is one of my all time favourite movies, but maybe it's because Kurosawa is more visually restrained than purer exploitation guys like Kenji Misumi or Seijun Suzuki. When I think about Seven Samurai I think mainly of the story itself and how swept away I was by it. Even though I'm sure it was visually amazing, the fact is I didn't notice such stuff because I was too invested in the plot and the characters.

Anyway, this is a longwinded way of justifying why The Hidden Fortress was so much better than I expected it to be. While we're on the subject of visual identity, I think the most striking thing about this film is its large set pieces, and maybe this more than anything else defines Kurosawa's 1950's work. Here it's a prisoner revolt, and marching samurai armies clashing, and that amazing fire festival scene.

But what I really love about this movie is that fact that it's just an old fashioned rollicking adventure story. I was expecting something a little more political - again, I always expect this of Kurosawa even though it's not really what he seems to do. But although there is a bit of that, really just enough for you to get your head around these different feudal clans and who is warring against who - all in pretty broad brushstrokes - this is just a story about a ragtag group of survivors trying to escape from behind enemy lines.

My blu-ray contains an interview with George Lucas, which seemed an odd choice of interviewee to me. The penny still hadn't dropped for me until he said "Hmmm, I was definitely influenced by this movie but Star Wars ended up bearing no real resemblance to it" where I thought, hang on, mate. Story told from the point of view of the two "lowliest" members of the team? (He did admit this much, to be fair). The whole idea of a small group led by a master swordsman smuggling a princess away from the bad guys? There's quite a lot of Hidden Fortress in Star Wars, I think and to be honest, that explains why I love this so much. It's just entertaining as fuck.

Toshiro Mifune: I mean, what can you say about this guy? He is just the fucking best, isn't he? He carries the film as well as the hopes of this group of underdogs as he leads us through the story. The only flat moments in this film are where it slows down through the whole sequence in the mountains, when our two comical protagonists stumble upon Mifune and the princess. But once they get moving and Mifune takes charge, this thing is unceasingly entertaining and spectacular.

I've heard it said that this movie is Kurosawa's version of a "crowd-pleaser", in which case I'm happy to consider myself one of that crowd - I am one pleased punter. This is absolutely fantastic - OK, maybe not as great as Seven Samurai (what is?), but definitely one of my favourite samurai movies so far. Magnificent.

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