The Hidden Fortress


Viewed – 17 July 2020. Blu-ray

(Akira Kurosawa season: part one)

I’d heard many good things about legendary Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa over the years, how he had influenced so many directors, his style having defined much of cinema as we know it, from the John Ford Westerns to Sci-Fi sagas like Star Wars. So I thought it high time I sat down to one of his movies, having recently picked up a box set of some of his most famed titles.

This movie from 1958 starts out with a duo of squabbling farmers who stumble upon the plight of a missing Princess and an invading army hellbent on killing her and claiming the kingdom for themselves. Initially hoping to turn their fortunes around by finding the Princess and claiming the bounty, the farmers soon find themselves befriending her and her bodyguard – a former General.

This was easy to get into, as I had had some trepidation concerning if I’d like this sort of movie. However the bumbling, squabbling farmers are good fun and the General, played by Kurosawa regular Toshiro Mifune is a likeable yet imposing presence that I was quickly routing for. The actress playing the Princess was also appealing even if her dialogue is limited for the most part. Kurosawa’s direction is decent with a few stand-out sequences including a tense one on one fight, a large scale escape from a fortress involving a ton of extras, and an eye-catching ‘fire festival’ sequence. George Lucas has named this as an influence on Star Wars, yet apart from his similarity between the farmers and R2D2 and C3PO, that’s where I felt comparisons ended.

It’s a tad long at 138 minutes, and isn’t as eventful as it could have been, with much of the running time taken up by the (admittedly enjoyable) banter between the four main characters. It’s also unclear who the invading army are (the mongols?) and what the setting is. Yet for my first foray into the movies of Akira Kurosawa, I still got a lot out of this, enough to make me thirsty for more.

The Blu-Ray from the BFI box set I picked up has a very pleasing, clear B&W image that’s quite eye-catching at times. Subtitles are also well done and easy to follow. Sound is effective, with clear dialogue and a pounding score despite being in standard stereo. Extras are a let down though, with only an interview with George Lucas and a trailer. There’s also strangely no scene selection.

Verdict::

(the movie) Good

(the Blu-ray) Good

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