“I saw people as they really are… I saw their beauty and their ugliness with my own eyes.”
In war-torn feudal Japan, two greedy peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) accompany a general (Toshiro Mifune), a disguised princess (Misa Uehara), and bundles of hidden gold across enemy lines.
Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:
- Akira Kurosawa Films
- Gold Seekers
- Japanese Films
- Mistaken or Hidden Identities
- Royalty and Nobility
Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary writes, this Japanese epic is “often exciting” and “consistently funny”. Indeed, it’s an excellent mixture of comedy (provided in no small measure by the bumbling peasants), adventure (the chase scene on horseback is particularly stunning), suspense (will the band of travelers make it to safety?), and social commentary (the sheltered princess is given an unprecedented chance to see “ordinary” life for the first time). It’s well-known by most film buffs that George Lucas took inspiration from this film when writing the screenplay for Star Wars (1977) — primarily in his choice to frame the story through the eyes of two of the lowliest characters (C3PO and R2D2). In Hidden Fortress, however, the bumbling peasants do more than simply frame the story — they serve as literal archetypes of foolish greed, while Mifune’s General Rokurota is a contrasting paragon of loyalty and stalwart bravery. In the end, nobility wins out, and the fools are left to their own quibbling devices once again.
Note: In his review, Peary points out that Uehara wears “what is definitely the skimpiest, sexiest outfit of any female in a Japanese costume picture.” This is true, yet Uehara’s shorts are ultimately much more than cheesecake fodder: they allow her more freedom of movement than a kimono, and her sturdy stance proves that she is capable of enduring a long journey through the wilderness.
Princess Yuki may be beautiful and sexy, but more importantly, she can hold her own in a man’s world.
Redeeming Qualities and Moments:
- Misa Uehara as the strong-willed, sexy young Princess Yuki.
- Toshiro Mifune’s dignified, undying loyalty to his princess.
- Chiaki and Fujiwara’s highly physical comedy
- Stunning black-and-white cinematography (as always with Kurosawa)
Yes. This one of Kurosawa’s most enjoyable films, not to be missed.
- Foreign Gem
- Important Director
3 thoughts on “Hidden Fortress, The (1958)”
This is one of my favourite Kurosawa films. It looks great on the big screen.
Thanks for the quote at the top, I’ve been looking for it. Great film.
‘Star Wars’-Schmar Wars!, this is the real deal! And, yes, a must! (Although ‘SW’ is technically a must for film fanatics, I walked out on it the first time I saw it. Conversely, the first time I saw ‘The Hidden Fortress’, I was captivated.)
As noted, there’s a lot going on in ‘THF’; it follows a Shakespearean pattern of something-for-everyone – yet even what’s low-brow is high. We’re eased into the film initially (and masterfully) with a comic tone, as the two peasants go from detesting each other to being best buds during adversity…to back again. (Hilariously, this continues throughout.) It’s almost like ‘Laurel and Hardy Go To Japan’.
‘THF’ is actually quite complex for something with such a simple plot. It would be impressive for its scale alone (esp. in the crowd scenes) but it also boasts terrific acting – led forcefully by Mifune, with his entertaining ‘hide in plain sight’ philosophy. I used to be bothered by Uehara’s performance – she was very busy for two years after this film, then left the business – but, watching the film again, I realized that the fact that her character is 16 makes everything else work. A hint of ‘Roman Holiday’ (a huge hit in Japan and still popular) emerges when the Princess says: “The happiness of these days I would have never known living in the castle.” As well, gold being such a factor in the plot echoes ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’.
Also noteworthy is the film’s flavorful score – and, yes, the cinematography is stunning; at times, surprisingly poetic: my favorite image shows a flag in the wind – it bears the Princess’ clan’s crest, which frames her superimposed face as she privately cries.