Hidden Fortress  [DVD]
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Winner of the Best Director Award at the 1959 Berlin Film Festival, this film is regarded by many to be one of Akira Kurosawa's finest and has been acknowledged by George Lucas as the principle inspiration for 'Star Wars'. Set in 16th century Japan, the story centres on rival clans, hidden gold and a princess in distress. Tahei (Minoru Chaiki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) are two cowardly soldiers on the run from an advancing enemy army. As they search the country for a cache of secret gold, they join forces with Rokurota Makabe (Toshiro Mifune), a samurai warrior who is escorting a fiesty princess (Misa Uehara) through enemy territory. The mismatched travellers then have to fight a number of battles before they finally come within sight of their goal.
Japan | 1958 | black & white | Japanese language with English subtitles | 138 minutes | Ratio 2.35:1 in anamorphic 16x9 format
Region 2 DVD
In one of the many classic collaborations between director Akira Kurosawa and his leading man Toshirô Mifune, this 1958 film tells the story of a warrior and a princess trying against all odds to return to their homeland with their fortune. Along the way, they are simultaneously assisted and thwarted by two itinerant and not-too-bright farmers with their own designs on the treasure, giving the story a subtle comic bent. Acknowledged by George Lucas as the inspiration for Star Wars (note the similarities, especially the comic duo who are the models for R2D2 and C3PO), Hidden Fortress combines an epic tale of struggle and honour with modern comic sensibilities, creating a masterful addition to world cinema. --Robert Lane, Amazon.comSee all Product description
Top customer reviews
I have loved this film at the first, second, third and fourth times of watching. The story is 'basic' as George Lucas rightly observes - in his short but illuminating interview which is the BFI DVD's sole Extra he makes the clear point that there are only a mere handful of stories to tell - but that's not what's important.
So what makes it great? First and foremost Kurosawa's wide-angle visual imagination is as stunning as Toshiro Mifune's acting. What could be more memorable, for example, as the panoramic shot early on where a huge band of naked, shave-headed slaves being whipped one way, runs into a similar band being whipped the other? The aftermath of war has rarely been portrayed with such astute, black humour. Indeed a kind of grim, death's-head comedy underlies the whole film, allied of course to the fairy-tale delicacy of the story-telling.
And how wonderful to have a historical epic like this - with its samurai duels, adventures and folk festivals - told from the perspective of the little people at the bottom (the two peasants) rather than the princesses and generals. The magic is, that it simultaneously shows how the ivory-tower Princess herself learns about ordinary life, and learns to love it: the whirling dance of the fire-festival, where she dances incognito amongst her people, is perhaps the most moving event of the whole film, as well as its plot pivot.
This is a marvel, beautifully paced with fast action sequences (in John Ford style) alternating with short, beautiful lyrical interludes. It's part Shakespearean romance, part Samurai epic, and part Japanese Ealing Comedy! At all events, once seen it will never be forgotten.
Themes of honor and compassion are dealt with in passing as nominal hero Mifune fails to appreciate the preciousness of all life, not just that of the princess he is sworn to protect, but this is pure popcorn fodder with more than a touch of Vera Cruz about it (but none of it's economy of line), as evidenced by George Lucas lifting elements for his first Star Wars film. Oddly enough the influence on John Milius is far more noticeable than Lucas - the scene where Mifune chases two soldiers on horseback and cuts them down without leaving his saddle is clearly the inspiration for the fight on the beach in The Wind and the Lion (even the music is similarly orchestrated). It gets there in the end, but it takes its time about it.
The BFI's UK PAL disc is light on extras - only a very half-hearted appreciation by George Lucas, who obviously doesn't think much of the film these days. Annoyingly, the subtitles are constantly presented over the picture area rather than on the black borders of the 2.35:1 widescreen transfer.
A much better bet is Criterion's remastered dual format DVD and Blu-ray edition from 2014 (Criterion Collection: The Hidden Fortress [Blu-ray]  [US Import]), which boasts superior picture quality to their original 2001 issue of the film (Criterion Collection: Hidden Fortress [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]) and its 2009 repackaged edition (Essential Art: Hidden Fortress [DVD]  [Region 1] [US Import] [NTSC]) and includes a better extras package - as well as the George Lucas interview there's also an audio commentary by Stephen Prince, documentary Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create and the Japanese trailer - though do bear in mind that the Blu-ray is Region A-locked and the DVD is Region 1 NTSC.
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