The Hidden Fortress

"Extraordinary"

The Hidden Fortress Review


Long ago and far, far away, in a worn-torn feudal Japan, two graspingly venal peasant stooges, Tahei (Minoru Chaiki) and Matakishi (Kamatari Fujiwara), have escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp and are trying to get back home when they run into General Rokurota Makabe (Toshiro Mifune). He appeals to their greed for gold to enlist them into helping to bring Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara) through enemy territory and across the border to safety so she can reclaim her throne.

If Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress sounds a bit familiar, it should: It's the basic story line of not only George Lucas's Star Wars and The Phantom Menace but also Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke and countless other space operas and anime features in which a ragtag group has to bring a wayward princess through hostile territory to the safety of her throne.

The Hidden Fortress is told like a fairy tale: a mean and nasty fairy tale. Kurosawa centers this film, which is very much about class distinctions, through the eyes of the two lowlife peasants, and what they see through their eyes is childish and cruel. They argue and slap each other silly over basic needs -- food, shelter, sex -- and through their vision the world is a hard and cruel place. Kurosawa depicts them on an elemental level, pawing through an arid and rocky hill country and tearing their way through wild, overgrown forests and encountering soldiers and peasants just like themselves, only too eager to kill or cheat for money and food. When the Princess and Makabe enter the film, they are storybook figures of goodness and light but also of a higher, better class. When the Princess has to pretend to be a mute peasant girl so she can't be identified by her high-tone accent and bearing, Kurosawa subtly shifts the emphasis away from the two peasant stooges to the Princess and Makabe. This allows Kurosawa not only to get in the action scenes with Mifune but to show how the Princess's social conscious grows as she is forced to live like the peasants she lords over in her kingdom. It's why at film's end, when the Princess sings, "Ponder and you'll see / The world is dark / And this floating world is a dream," it is quite a moving moment of awakening.

For Kurosawa, The Hidden Fortress ushered in a number of firsts -- not only was it Kurosawa's biggest hit (until Yojimbo), it was the first time Kurosawa filmed in Cinemascope, announced with great fanfare in an opening credit as TohoScope. In his first scope film, Kurosawa already uses the wide frame like a master. It starts with the opening scene: The widescreen frame tracks behind the two beaten down peasants on a gravelly and baked open road, the barren expanse in front of them. Suddenly a terrified samurai emerges from the bottom of the frame and is chased into the distance by sword-bearing horsemen, who cut him down, leave the body, and ride off. It is a stunning introduction to KurosawaScope, and throughout the rest of the film, Kurosawa's compositions are composed so masterfully for the scope lens (the spear fight between Makabe and an enemy general, the hellish chaos in the POW camp, the mystical fire festival) that the film would be nonsensical viewed in any other format.

What makes The Hidden Fortress not a simple fairy tale but a disturbing one is the discomfiting tone of out-of-kilter mayhem running throughout the film. The landscapes are always too much -- too chalky, too rocky, too lush -- and the climatic conditions that reign down on the characters make it appear like the story is taking place on another planet (white parched dryness and brittle crags, monsoon-like rain and mud, otherworldly fog). The characters too are out-of-balance, particularly our two idiot peasants, who are always turning on each other and Makabe as soon as his back is turned: Tahei and Matakishi shockingly rush out and turn the Princess and Makabe in to the enemy and even more shockingly argue about who will be the first one to rape the Princess while she sleeps. These boys are not the cuddly Clifton Webb and Billy DeWolfe clones C3PO and R2D2 in Star Wars. Not by a mile.

The Hidden Fortress is an action-adventure tale played broadly but grandly, Kurosawa not only recalling John Ford but Beckett and Brecht in his characters and blighted landscapes. The Hidden Fortress is so much more than it seems, and it is Kurosawa is at the top of his game. What could have come off as an irritating comedy adventure instead is a masterpiece of composition, atmosphere, and subtext.

Aka Kakushi-toride no san-akunin.

Smells like Wookiee.



The Hidden Fortress

Facts and Figures

Run time: 126 mins

In Theaters: Thursday 6th October 1960

Box Office Worldwide: $463.8 thousand

Distributed by: Media Home Entertainment

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 100%
Fresh: 28

IMDB: 8.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Starring: Matthew Dupuis as Marc Cabot, Roxanne Gaudette-Loiseau as Sarah Cabot, Roxanne Gaudette-Loiseau as Julian, Jean-Philippe Debien as Rollo, Charli Arcouette-Martineau as Suzie, as Michael, Laurent-Christophe De Ruelle as Michael's kleiner Bruder, Jeremy Gagnon as Mario, Carmina Senosier as Marie Ange, Émilie Cyrenne-Parent as Indian Referee, Serge-Olivier Paquette as Conquistador Referee, Hugo Dubé as Louis-Georges Chabot, George Brossard as Phillippe Beauregard, Patrick Labbé as Luc Chicoine, Isabelle Cyr as Sophie Tremblay, Jessica D. Leclerc as Idian Child

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Colossal Movie Review

Colossal Movie Review

It's rare to find a movie that so defiantly refuses to be put into a...

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword Movie Review

It's unlikely that Guy Ritchie could make a boring movie if he wanted to. This...

Snatched Movie Review

Snatched Movie Review

It doesn't really matter that the script for this lively action-comedy is paper thin: teaming...

Jawbone Movie Review

Jawbone Movie Review

Boxing movies aren't usually this thoughtful. Sure, there are plenty of punchy moments in the...

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Whisky Galore! Movie Review

Scottish filmmaker Gillies MacKinnon (Hideous Kinky) remakes the 1949 Ealing comedy classic, although it's difficult...

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Alien: Covenant Movie Review

Master filmmaker Ridley Scott is back to continue the story 10 years after the events...

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

The Journey (2017) Movie Review

A fictionalised account of real events, this drama is reminiscent of Peter Morgan's work in...

Advertisement
Sleepless Movie Review

Sleepless Movie Review

In remaking the 2011 French thriller Sleepless Night, the filmmakers have dumbed down both the...

Unlocked Movie Review

Unlocked Movie Review

By injecting a steady sense of fun, this slick but mindless action thriller both holds...

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

Lady Macbeth Movie Review

A seriously impressive feature directing debut with a star-making central performance, this period British drama...

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 Movie Review

It was never going to be easy to match the impact of 2014's Guardians of...

The Promise Movie Review

The Promise Movie Review

The director of Hotel Rwanda, Terry George, turns to another humanitarian horror: the systematic murder...

Their Finest Movie Review

Their Finest Movie Review

Skilfully written, directed and acted, this offbeat British period film tells a story that catches...

Unforgettable Movie Review

Unforgettable Movie Review

With heavy echoes of trashy thrillers like Fatal Attraction, this movie overcomes its painfully simplistic...

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.