The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress ★★★½

"Hide a stone among stones and a man among men." ~ General Rokurota Makabe

For "Star Wars" fans, this film is a must see. Here's what inspired George Lucas's tale of a galaxy far away, a princess fleeing under cover, two helpful droids, light-saber battles and all that followed. Yet it was Western filmmaker John Ford who inspired Japanese director Akira Kurosawa here, bringing the cinematic creativity full circle.

In this story of post-medieval Japan, peasants Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) become unwittingly involved in the escape of Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara), whose Akizuki homeland is being overrun by the ruthless Yamana clan. The princess's trusted protector, General Rokurota Makabe (Toshirô Mifune), is tasked with ushering her through enemy territory to the safety of the Hayakawa province, and he bribes the peasants to gain their help. They must make their way, however, with 200 pieces of gold removed from the Akizuki clan's "Hidden Fortress," which significantly slows their progress and makes them a target for betrayal. Other stars appearing in this classic adventure include Kurosawa-regular Takashi Shimura as an aging ally, Susumu Fujita as opposing General Hyoe Tadokoro, and Toshiko Higuchi as a farmer's daughter sold into slavery.

Kurosawa's mastery of cinematography is on full display here, as is his skillful use of the acting talents of a superb cast. There is wry humor as well as thrilling action, plenty of cleverness and no lack of showmanship, as evidenced in the Fire Festival dance scene and a finely choreographed duel with spears. According to the trailer, this was the biggest productions ever made in Japan at the time.


Part of my 5 Directors x 5 Unseen Films challenge.

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