The Hidden Fortress
(Review from A Tribute to Toshiro Mifune: 40 Films Starring Japan's Greatest Actor)
Director: Akira Kurosawa. Screenplay: Akira Kurosawa, Hideo Oguni, Ryuzo Kikushima and Shinobu Hashimoto. Photography: Ichio Yamazaki. Music: Masaru Sato. Co-stars: Misa Uehara, Takashi Shimura, Susmu Fujita, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara.
A princess under the prtoection of a brave and resourceful general is pursued by enemies of her clan, bent on capturing her treasure trove of gold. The general must find a way to carry her to safety in friendly territory. Along their escape, they come upon two peasants whom they press into service with promises of reward if they arrive securely at their destination. Just as they near safety, they are captured. Their captor, it turns out, had been humiliated in battle by the princess' guardian. Recognizing the justic of his captives' cause, he defects to her side and aids her escape. All make it to the promised land, the peasants get their reward and presumably the princess lives happily ever after.
There has always been a certain sense of nobility underlying all of Mifune's screen characters, no matter how lowly in appearance. Here he plays a man of high position and power who must make himself appear lowly. The film is a send-up of such fairy-tale nobility, which Mifune carries off with droll perfection.
Kurosawa had several objectives in making The Hidden Fortress. This was to be the last picture on his Toho contract before he started his own production company, and he wanted to make a good box office movie to repay's his company's patience with his earlier, more difficult films. It was also his first film using Toho's newly developed Cinemascope process, for which he wanted a suitably grand and sweeping subject to display on the wide screen. (This was in fact the first Japanese film in 'scope.) Moreover, despite his fondness for the fantastic aspects of chambara (swordfight) films, he deplored their conventional style and hopd to spoof the conventions. He did so with brilliant success. The picture was a box office smash to boot.
George Lucas has acknowledged a great fondness for the picture that is evident in his original Star Wars.