by Kurosawa standards, and fast-paced despite being well over two hours;
this is one worth picking up."
Three Villains of the Hidden Fortress, Three Bad Men in a Hidden Fortress,
Three Rascals in the Hidden Fortress
Sanezumi Fujimoto, Akira Kurosawa
Ryuzo Kikushima, Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa
Toshiro Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Misa Uehara, Susumu Fujita
Time: 139 min.
bickering peasants get swept up in an epic struggle between clans when
they encounter a general trying to smuggle the princess of the recently
defeated Akizuki clan across enemy lines.
This title is available at HKflix.com
Guess what dear readers if there are any, it's a
fortification doubleheader !
First, I saw Hidden Fortress today, the film which allegedly inspired George
Lucas to make Star Wars (turns out it just inspired some moments of Star Wars
rather than the whole sextalogy), an adventure story of two petty goons who get
involved into a high-profile rescue operation. The two smalltime profiteurs,
Tahei and Matakishi, are just freshly out of recent war campaign in which they
tried to earn some money but wound up with zilch and eventually in captivity.
They manage to flee during a fully-fledged slave rebellion, and then stumble
upon a few gold sticks in the mountains which spark their enthousiasm. Turns
out, that gold is part of a bigger gold shipment, the one guarded by a guy who
dubs himself general Makabe Rokurota (Mifune, who else), who also has another
task - that one, to escort the princess of the Akizuki clan (Misa Uehara) to a
safe territory over the border. Tahei and Matakishi accept to assist them, a
decision obviously influenced by all that gold, and off they go to another 100
or so minutes of high adventure.
Was it really high adventure ? Well, no. Although the pace is a bit faster than
the usual Kurosawa samurai film, there is still not much action here happening
to satisfy a modern action fan. But there's eye candy and expert direction
aplenty. This was Kurosawa's first film which was shot in widescreen aspect, and
he makes the best of it by fully utilising the wonderful scenery into this
picture. Mountains, forests, medieval encampments and plains all bring this film
to a better level - it's amazing how a Kurosawa black and white film still looks
much richer in detail than about 90% of coloured CGI crapola nowadays. And even
though the action scenes are only here and there, when they happen they really
happen - the horseback chase between Rokurota and some opposition soldiers a
real standout. Also, it's worth noting that this film is somewhat low on social
references and commentary - as the DVD notes on the BFI disc mention, this is
the closest Kurosawa came to chanbara genre in his period pieces.
Probably because he knew this was his last Toho contract film, so he wanted to
take a stab at something new I'm guessing.
As for the Star Wars references, well, Tahei and Matakishi are a somewhat loose
inspiration for C3PO and R2D2, and the first fifteen minutes of film have been
conveniently used for the Tatooine sequences after the two likable droids crash
land. Also, Lucas himself mentions in an interview that the fact that the story
was told from the view of two less important characters was the main thing which
inspired him, which is well visible.
And oh, that last shot has been used in Phantom Menace methinks. Well, all
things accounted for, this film did its best to bore me and yet I walked out
(well, left the sofa actually) somewhat satisfied. Even though it lasted
whopping 135 minutes, a big no-no in my books.
The other castle in this entry is the one of the spider's web, the one featuring
in Throne of Blood. Now, I liked this film a dash better than Hidden
Fortress for some reason, which is odd as I usually favour action over drama.
But Throne was good, real good. Anyway, this film is Kurosawa's vision of
Shakespeare's Macbeth. Long story short, two noble warriors - who are, much to
my surprise, played by Mifune & Shimura - are back from a triumphant battle in
which they put down some rebels, and on their way back to their lord's castle
they run into a ghost in the middle of a forest during a thunderstorm. The ghost
predicts that Washizu (Mifune) will soon rule one castle, and that he will also
become the high lord soon, but that his reign will be brief and ended by
Odagura's (Shimura) son. They both disband this as something unimportant, but
soon, Washizu gets his castle and the plot begins - Washizu is soon egged on by
his wife to murder the lord and frame someone else, and grab all the power for
himself. Washizu obliges, then later even kills Odagura to eliminate
competition, but Odagura's son is obviously not happy and wants revenge. Washizu,
worried that he might fail, visits the forest spirit once more, who grinningly
informs him that he won't lose unless the "spider bush" (the forest, as subbed
by some inept Hong Kong translator) starts moving towards him.
Convinced that there are no such things as moving bushes, Washizu reassures his
army that the victory is theirs. Mood is great, until next morning...someone
detects that forest is heading into castle's way ! How the hell did that happen
you ask ? Why, the cunning opposition army disguised itself under branches and
leaves and started their move to the castle. Unable to quell his own troops and
dispell this illusion, Washizu is treated to a salvo of arrows which nail him to
the wall of his own commander's watchpost (a truly memorable scene) - and so
this story ends.
I obviously shortchanged the role of Washizu's wife, who is masterfully played
by Isuzu Yamada. Pauline Kael mentioned in her review that there was never a
better lady MacBeth, and I'm inclined to agree here (I'll of course casually
forget I never saw any other MacBeth adaptation) - her pale white face is pure
evil, and the scene in which she washes her hands of blood in the end is
downright creepy. Creepy, actually, is the tone of this film - from the great
haunting score with choir singing to the visually stunning scenes in the "spider
bush" during thunderstorm and generally gorgeous landscape (as usual), the film
just oozes some uneasiness throughout. And there's again Mifune excelling as the
medieval tough guy, but of totally another mould than the jovial characters of
Sanjuro and Makabe Rokurota - lord Washizu is one evil, power-hungry loon, and
his descent into madness is a triumph of Mifune's acting ability.
And man, I can't believe I forgot to mention how great of a score was the one
for Yojimbo. Man, 'twas awesome, and then some. But, yeah, the grades for today
MAIROSU'S RATING: 7.5/10
REVIEW: The titular location isn't much of a "fortress"...more
like a couple of shacks tucked away in a canyon...but the adventure that
stops there along the way is highly entertaining. This Akira Kurosawa film
takes its time getting where it's going but does so at a steady pace and
averts any serious boredom on the viewer's part, in typical Kurosawa fashion.
It follows the exploits of two greedy farmers named Tahei (Minoru Chiaki)
and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) who flee the territory scarred by war
between the Akizuki and Yamana clans. They are recruited by General Rokurota
Makabe (early Kurosawa mainstay Toshiro Mifune) to help transport a fortune
in gold bars concealed in hollowed-out firewood and Princess Yuki of the
defeated Akizaki clan through enemy lines. Like most film princesses, Yuki
is rather bitchy much of the time. She just loves to threaten people with
that stick of hers, and she says everything in the same irritating, stressed-out,
unduly urgent tone of voice. The ceaseless, comedic bickering of Tahei
and Matashichi eases the pain somewhat, but I find it rather foolish of
them to complain about how cold it is when they aren't wearing pants.
influenced by early American westerns, and he HAD influence ON many of
the later ones. It's not difficult to see. Rokurota's tense, methodical
duel with Hyoe Takokoro (Susumu Fujita), which is as psychological as it
is physical, will no doubt bring to mind the traditional showdown between
gunslingers on a dusty road lined by spectators. (A minor complaint: more
information on the history between these two characters would have been
nice, as I found their relationship to be one of the most interesting aspects
of the film.)
doesn't stop there. I think it's safe to assume that the creators of the
awesome Korean swordplay epic Musa ("Warrior") were fans of The
Hidden Fortress. The clash of the clans, the smuggling of the princess,
and the peasant girl who joins the protagonists along the way...all there.
However, Musa is based on actual events and for that reason may not be
as much of a "rip off" (I wouldn't use that term anyway; it's
thrown around far too casually) as one would immediately think. Accuse
me of all the sacrilege you want, but I definitely consider Musa the better
movie, and NOT just because it's newer, flashier, and in color as opposed
to black and white. It is because Musa has a broader scope, and boasts
one of my favorite characters in all of cinema: Yeesol, played by Jung
weren't you talking about The Hidden Fortress?" Oh yeah, thanks. Toshiro
Mifune has commanding screen presence, Minoru Chiaki's facial expressions
are outstanding, and Kurosawa never falters in any significant way throughout
the film's 139-minute duration. This film will definitely make you want
to seek out more of Kurosawa's work if you haven't already done so.
DVD has a brief segment where George Lucas talks about his exposure to
Kurosawa and the influence that The Hidden Fortress had on Star Wars; primarily,
the fact that the story is told from the point of view of the two "lowest"
characters (Tahei & Matashichi/C3PO & R2D2). Even though he says
"uh" and "um" a lot, he comes across as reasonably
knowledgeable and you get the impression that he DOES, in fact, have a
clue...which really makes you wonder why The Phantom Menace and Attack
of the Clones suck so hard.
by Kurosawa standards, and fast-paced despite being well over two hours;
this is one worth picking up.