Free-ads - Forum News and columns Features & Interviews Film links Calendar dates for festivals Contact details Statistical Info Funding Info
site web
About Netribution Contact Netribution Search Netribution


interviews / reviews / how to / short shout / carnal cinema / film theory / whining & dining

netribution > features > reviews > The Hidden Fortress

by Jonathan Key | January 21st, 2001

The Hidden Fortress - (Kakushi Toride No San-Akunin)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Starring Toshiro Mifune
Japan 1958 (subtitles)
123 mins, Cert. PG (tbc)
BFI Collections
Opens 1 Feb 2002 at the NFT

The Kurosawa season at the NFT this winter is just recompense for a great director who has been much misused in the West. Nobody doubts his greatness with composition and drama. Yet his lasting influence upon American cinema, in particular, seems to have been to serve as the inspiration for a series of glorified B-movies.

The awesome Seven Samurai (Sichinin no Samurai) became The Magnificent Seven. The violent Yojimbo was ripped off repeatedly for Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns. And another of his samurai epics, The Hidden Fortress, released here by the BFI in a sharp new print, was the inspiration for Star Wars.

Knowing Kurosawa’s meditation on cowardice may help to explain some of the stranger aspects of Star Wars, particularly the long, slow beginning with the droids in the desert, but Lucas’s film throws no light back onto the work of the Japanese master. In fact, you would be much better coming to The Hidden Fortress with the Westerns of Howard Hawks and John Ford in mind.

The film follows the misadventures of two cowardly farmers, Tahei and Mataschichi, as they try to return home from a failed military expedition. They chance upon some gold bars, and are enlisted by the noble general Rokurota Makebe (Toshiro Mifune) to help their Princess return to safety. The journey from the hidden fortress back through enemy territory thoroughly tests the bravery and loyalty of the companions — tests that the bickering Tahei and Mataschichi almost always fail.

Kurosawa serves up some spectacular set-pieces, particularly a prisoners’ revolt and a swirling, dizzying festival of fire-worshippers. What’s more, the elegant fight sequences remind anyone impressed by Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon that Ang Lee wasn’t the first serious director to choreograph combat as poetry.

As ever, though, it is Kurosawa’s careful and thorough examination of human nature that provides an emotional line through the epic action. Like the great Westerns, the film is essentially a hymn to courage, the noble act of self-sacrifice in a lost cause. The cleverness of the film is that it comes at the issue through the cowardly outlook of the two farmers. Their childlike state is emphasised at the start of the movie by their comically nappy-like clothing. They alternate constantly between greed and fear, feeling little more than animal passions. The majestic Mifune seems all the more noble as a result. Kurosawa also allows ordinary people to attain the greatness of true courage, with a servant girl sacrificing her life to save the Princess.

The Hidden Fortress displays some of Kurosawa’s greatest strengths. The composition is beautiful, and the clean new print is a joy, with the exception of the slightly disappointing first reel. The action is precise and perfectly appropriate to the film’s simple themes. Kurosawa’s balance between spectacle and character development is tonic for anyone disappointed by the emptiness of contemporary blockbusters.

Last Orders
The Hidden Fortress
Mulholland Drive
Back Against the Wall
The Bank
Dark Blue World
Beginners Luck
Gosford Park
The Pledge
The Center of the World
The Man Who Wasn't There
Baby Blues
The Score
The Circle
The Navigators
Mike Bassett:England Manager
George Washington

The Man Who Cried
Crime and Punishment in Suburbia

The Way of The Gun

Green Desert

Three Below Zero

Requiem For A Dream

The King is Alive

The House Of Mirth
The Luzhin Defence

One Day In September
There's Only One Jimmy Grimble
Miss Julie

Purely Belter
Ring 1
Ring 2
Dancer In The Dark

Angels of the Universe

The Exhibited

Billy Elliot

The Guerilla Film Makers Handbook (2nd Edition)
The Filmmakers Handbook
Imagining Reality - the Faber Book of Documentary
Before You Shoot

American Beauty


Copyright © Netribution Ltd 1999-2002
searchhomeabout usprivacy policy