Monday, July 14, 2008

#17: The Hidden Fortress


The Hidden Fortress
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa, and Hideo Oguni
Released October 6, 1960 (U.S.)

Director Akira Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune are like the cinematic combination equivalent to chocolate and peanut butter: so tasty that anyone denying their inherent goodness is suspect in my book. Their collaborations resulted in some of the finest movies to ever come from Japan, including The Seven Samurai, Rashoman, and tonight's film, The Hidden Fortress.

The story of Hidden Fortress is essentially the basis for George Lucas's Star Wars. Two bumbling fools, one short and one tall (think C3PO and R2D2) must help a noble warrior transport a stoic, stubborn princess (and her gold) across enemy lines to a safe spot where she can rebuild her lost empire.

Aside from a few stylistic touches (like the use of horizontal wipe cuts to transition between scenes), the similarities end there. Unlike the droid protagonists of Star Wars, the two bumbling servants are generally greedy and useless, endangering the mission as often as they are helping. Although, it would be pretty hilarious to hear dialogue like "Your smell makes me want to puke," or, "You're a shitworm!" coming out of the mouth of C3PO.

Authenticity was always one of Kurosawa's strong points; oftentimes the worlds he created within his films were so believable, and the actors so engrossed in their roles, that the viewer might entirely forget that these movies were made in modern times. The Hidden Fortress is no exception. The director's keen eye for detail and realism stretches to the scenery, ensuring that at no point (at least to these eyes) do you feel like you're watching something filmed on a studio lot or indoor set.

Mifune, as the fiery eyed general, is unsurprisingly great here. The two peasants, played by Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara, provide much needed comic relief, while Misa Uehara does a fine job as the obstinate princess. Her voice, however, may feel like nails on a chalkboard.

Let's face it: the Japanese language is not one of the more beautiful/soft-on-the-ears languages spoken in the world. Uehara's voice as she barks out commands can be so incredibly grating that you'll find yourself thanking God when one of the characters asks her to play mute while they travel across the dangerous territory.

For more on Hidden Fortress:
- More information at IMDB
- Buy The Hidden Fortress at the official Criterion site.

An extended trailer, featuring a little footage of Kurosawa directing:

Here's a YouTube clip featuring a number of sources/inspiration for Star Wars:

1 comment:

rupert said...

Don't forget "Once Upon a Time in the West."

That is where Darth Vader's breathing came from, as Mr. Choo Choo and his gunmen.

Star Wars is a composite of both films.