The Hidden Fortress (1958)

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An Cinema Classic, I can see a lot Star Wars in The Hidden Fortress

In late 2011, I attempted to do a marathon relating to some of Asia’s classic movies of old. I reviewed Tokyo Story, Onibaba, Seven Samurai, and Twilight Samurai. These films were all fantastic for different reasons, and although I had to cancel the marathon I never forgot the joy I got from watching some of the classic films that defined their respective genres. Fortunately for me, I recently found the ‘Asian Literature’ section of the library. There I discovered a load of cinema classics that were begging to be viewed and appreciated. Among them, was Akira Kurosawa’s ‘The Hidden Fortress’.

Two vagabonds stumble upon a samurai and a princess disguised as a commoner looking to cross enemy territory to safety. The Hamana are on high alert, snuffing out any remaining Akisuki soliders. And Toshiro Mifune’s ‘General Makabe Rokurota’ is tasked with getting the princess to safety.

 

There was one aspect of Hidden Fortress that greatly influenced George Lucas, the hand behind the Star Wars series. It was the way in which the story was delivered–through the point of view of ‘lowly’ characters. C3PO  and R2D2 served as the audience’s POV early on in the Star Wars series, and Kurosawa implements a similar usage in a couple of peasants. The two men are the type who cling together as a means of survival, all the while engaging petty insults and silly disputes. One reason I really enjoy this approach, is that it gives the audience a chance to marvel at the movie’s protagonists and antagonists in all their respective luster. We see how  stoic and confident Toshiro Mifune’s General Makabe Rokurota can be. We also see the princess, still a teenager as brash as her age would suggest; as well as how merciless and brutal the soldiers of the Yamana army were. Being able watch these character exude their best qualities, often in response to the two peasants, was the best part of the film. There were times where the two peasants, greedy scoundrels at their core, were so greedy that it warranted them both risking their lives for a few extra bars of gold.

It’s widely understood that Akira Kurosawa was heavily influenced by legendary director John Ford. As I listened to the commentary of George Lucas comparing the two directors, the similarities in the type of shots and long takes is well noted. Kurosawa uses it very effectively here, and the scenes in which many soldiers or villagers are on screen always seemed to be framed in the perfect shot for viewers to get an idea of scope. I also think the action scenes are thrilling and intense–as quickly as a large-scale battle would occur–like a flash in a pan, the oppressed roll over the oppressors and rumble away toward freedom. Toshiro Mifune’s gruff, fierce stare reminds me of the ‘fighting spirit’ that is often visible in classic anime series such as Ruroni Kenshin or Dragonball Z. Watching his General slash, stab, and slice his way through the opposition was ferocious. It pairs well with his poised, self-assured demeanor; and I never really felt worried about the state of the mission.

To sum it all up, this one is a classic, but for whatever reason it’s often placed after some of Kurosawa’s works. I enjoyed the experience so much so, that it really inspired me to wanna go back through the local library to see if I could find anymore classics from Kurosawa or his contemporaries. The good thing about the availability of The Hidden Fortress is that you can most definitely find it on websites like Hulu.com, Netflix, Amazon, and also (most likely) at your local library.

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