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The Hidden Fortress (1958) <><><><><>

I believe, The Hidden Fortress is my first Akira Kurosawa film. It shows why he is considered one of the greatest directors of all time. George Lucas claims that The Hidden Fortress was the inspiration for Star Wars. Tarantino is a student of Kurosawa’s work. Kurosawa is one of the most prolific directors of all time and The Hidden Fortress is a gem.

Unless you know Japanese you are going to be reading subtitles. Fortunately, it is not a dialog heavy movie. So much is conveyed through action sequences that you never get tired of reading despite a run time of just over two hours.

This may be the first action-adventure comedy ever. The two bumbling idiot peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, bring plenty of comic relief. They fight with each other, then work together, then one tries to take advantage of the other. The pattern repeats throughout the film to bring a nice levity. The main cast is rounded out by General Rokurota Makabe, played by Toshiro Mifune also featured in Seven Samurai, and Princess Yuki. Princess Yuki is a wonderful character. She slowly reveals her abilities in small tastes that keep you wanting to learn more. Princess Leia is a direct rip off down to her combat skills. Makabe serves as a wonderful contrast to Tahei and Matachichi. Where the peasants are eager to take the seemingly easy and fast way out of situations, Makabe is deliberate and forward-thinking. Makabe is miraculously able to counteract Tahei’s and Matashichi’s poor decision making and advance the gang on their quest.

I am not familiar enough with what was going on in Japan in the mid to late ’50s to understand what social commentary Kurosawa was going after. Greed is a recurring subject with the peasants trying to escape with gold constantly, only to have their greed backfire on them. Makabe is full of forgiveness, each time Tahei and Matachichi try to escape he welcomes them back. His ability to forgive his enemies is what ultimately allows him to achieve his goal. Perhaps it is a commentary on how rebuilding Japan had many situations where greed could take over but lead to the downfall of the nation. After destroying Japan, the US helped rebuild it. The Japan of today is largely due to their acceptance of help from former enemies.

This is one of the oldest movies I have seen, but it has aged incredibly well. I could see a few bald caps that would have been fixed today. The fight scenes are choreographed as good as anything today, but the killing blows don’t have the impact they would in a modern film. Those are really the only two things I can think of that feel dated.

I have the nearly 3:30 Seven Samurai, another Kurosawa film, queued up to watch soon. The Hidden Fortress is a more approachable entry point into Kurosawa’s legendary body of work. It is a truly great film that everyone should see at least once. It will change how you view the action and adventure genre in a good way. This is a foundation film that I can’t praise enough.

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