The Hidden Fortress

Hidden Fortress Screenshot 1

A part of this view­ing list: Criterion Collection Spine #116: Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress.

Well it has been 9 months since I last re­viewed a Criterion Collection film. I sup­pose hav­ing a 7-mon­th old will do that to you. I had a chance to sit down last night and watch The Hidden Fortress. I might be a bit rusty, but this film didn’t seem as high-qual­i­ty as most of Kurosawa’s out­put. The on­ly char­ac­ter who ex­hibits any de­vel­op­ment is Princess Yuki, and al­though she’s the fo­cus of all of the ac­tion, as a char­ac­ter she’s pret­ty sec­ondary. The two peas­ants, Tahei and Matakishi, are in the fore through­out the film, and their slap­stick kept the film from delv­ing in­to the deep­er co­nun­drums that bound around in the wings.

Hidden Fortress Screenshot 2

Everybody is try­ing to find or save Princess Yuki, the last sur­viv­ing mem­ber of the Akizuki clan. Our two boors buf­fet about due to the tides of war and their own avarice, seek­ing ei­ther the Akizuki gold or Yuki Akizuki, as their whims dic­tate. Toshiro Mifune [play­ing Toshiro Mifune as Rotokura Makabe] ropes them in­to haul­ing the gold and the princess through, across, around [and var­i­ous oth­er prepo­si­tions] en­e­my lines. Every plan Tahei and Matakishi ‘de­vise’ fails im­me­di­ate­ly, and they try to run off with the gold al­most as much as they fight each oth­er. There is one 10 min­ute Toshiro spear-fight show­case show­down in which Mr. Mifune’s whit­tled fore­arms are the main scene, but the rest of the film pret­ty much con­sists of folks bitch­ing up and down [and var­i­ous oth­er prepo­si­tions] myr­i­ad roads.

Hidden Fortress Screenshot 3

This is not to say that the film is with­out val­ue. Kurosawa’s eye for the right fram­ing and sub­tle phras­ing is as on the mark as it ever is; stop­ping at an inn for the evening we find out that with 5 pieces of sil­ver you can ei­ther buy a good horse or a pros­ti­tute [per­ma­nent­ly]. The ham-fist­ed peas­ants live in sty-squalor and are herd­ed about by porcine pet­ty lords and their pig-head­ed vas­sals. The ob­jec­tive eye in­di­cates that all par­ties are a bit ab­surd in their hu­man­i­ty. Everyone is hap­py with sta­tus quo ex­cept Princess Yuki, who gets her first taste of how the oth­er 99.9% lives and gains the right­eous in­dig­na­tion on the be­half of her in­fe­ri­ors that hard-time-fal­l­en no­bil­i­ty al­ways seem to ex­hibit in fic­tion. She does have nice legs, how­ev­er.

Hidden Fortress Screenshot 4

I guess what sank the movie for me was the way the con­stant breaks for a bit of lev­i­ty un­der­cut the dra­ma at the same time that Mifune’s fur­rowed dis­ap­proval killjoyed the clown­ing slap­stick [which I’m not re­al­ly a fan of any­way]. Toss in a plot that isn’t all that com­pelling or orig­i­nal and 2D char­ac­ters with un­chang­ing mo­ti­va­tions and the re­sult is that I might have en­joyed this movie if I had seen it be­fore Star Wars [Lucas claims The Hidden Fortress as an in­spi­ra­tion for that uni­verse, but there are on­ly very ba­sic and tan­gen­tial re­la­tions be­tween the two]. The sto­ry prob­a­bly won’t keep you go­ing, but the hope for the next ex­cep­tion­al shot will.

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