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Film Review - The Hidden Fortress

by Nancy Beckerman

Directed by Akira Kurosawa

The Hidden Fortress is a classic – an amazing, adult film, which pairs up the legendary Japanese director, Akira Kurosawa, and one of his favorite actors, Toshiro Mifune. This black and white movie, which is more than two hours long, has been highly praised by many critics. I recommend it without reservation.

The film was first released way back in 1958 (so both the director and the star were quite young) and would seem dated except that it is set in ancient Japan. It has been said to "hold a place in cinematic history" and is acknowledged to have been the major influence on George Cukor's Star Wars movies, specifically for its plot, the characters, and for the telling of the story from the point of view of the most humble individuals.

The story concerns a warrior general (Mifune) and a princess he must save from feuding tribes. These two have to journey to her home territory, all the while trying to preserve a fortune in gold which belonged to her royal family. Along the way, they encounter vicious bands of warriors, all of whom are searching for the princess.

For comic relief, two peasants, not very bright, accompany them, and although they do help at times, they also allow their greed to lead them into trouble, while the general (Mifune) rescues them over and over again. Justice and compassion rule when Mifune liberates a poor maiden who has been forced into slavery by unscrupulous men.

The princess is a very strong-willed character, and is a true partner for the general, as they make their way through mountains, forest wilderness, caves, and enemy territory.

Partway through the film, we witness a duel with spears (which is really a fight with bo's) between the general (Mifune) and his fiercest enemy. It reminds us of bo kumite, but between enemies, not karetekas.

The Hidden Fortress had been called Korosawa's greatest movie until Yojimbo, which was released in 1961. Praise includes The Criterion Collection's tributes; they laud Kurosawa's "wry humor, breathtaking action, and humanist compassion." They continue on to say the director "balances valor and greed, seriousness and humor, while depicting the misfortunes of war."