The Hidden Fortress (1958)

Genres - Adventure  |   Sub-Genres - Costume Adventure, Samurai Film  |   Run Time - 137 min.  |   Countries - Japan   |   MPAA Rating - NR
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Review by Michael Costello

Kurosawa's light adventure is probably best known as one of the primary inspirations for George Lucas' Star Wars (1977), but it's a masterful entertainment in its own right. Toshiro Mifune stars as a famous general who uses a couple of clownish peasants to help him transport a gold shipment and a volatile young princess through enemy territory. The film was the pioneering effort of the Japanese film industry in the use of the widescreen ratio, and, in a sense, Kurosawa's brilliantly supple deployment of the process is the star of the film. Especially in the early sequences in the prison and the quarry, the director achieves extraordinary effects of mass and scale as he suggests the smallness of the squabbling peasants and the stature of General Rokurota. He also uses the available space to spread the characters as far as he can, expressing the common distrust that is, at times, the only emotion these four very differently motivated characters share. Kurosawa has often suggested to his actors that they imagine themselves as various animals in an effort to elicit a more overtly physical performance, and that seems to be the case here, as the slightly exaggerated ensemble acting style enhances the humor of a film that is sometimes reminiscent of an early silent. Mifune, a virtuoso of physical acting, did all his own stunts, the most impressive being a horse-mounted pursuit while swinging a sword. Like Star Wars, the film has something of the quality of a fairy tale, one which can be appreciated both by children and adults.