HIDDEN FORTRESS, a tale of a general, a princess, and two peasants
enemy lines with 200 pieces of hidden gold, is one of the few films
Kurosawa intended as pure entertainment.
The bumbling peasants
FORTRESS have often been called the
inspiration for George Lucas's beloved STAR WARS characters R2D2 and
CP30, who in turn have been compared to Laurel and Hardy.
HIDDEN FORTRESS, you may wonder if Kurosawa himself was not
inspired by Laurel and Hardy in creating Matakishi and Tahei. Within
the first half hour,
fans of "The Boys" will be reminded of PARDON US (a prisoner
WAY OUT WEST
(a campfire scene) and FRA
DIAVOLO (the peasants become
the lackeys of an intimidating figure) as well as THE MUSIC BOX (the
pair climb to the top of a rocky hill only to discover a shortcut
exists). Forever fighting, forever making up only to fight
again, sad faced Matakishi and mustachioed Tahei are not exact copies of
Laurel and Hardy -
it is the Hardyesque Tahei who is more apt to burst into tears - but
there is enough of the L&H spirit in them to make you wonder
kind of fun Kurosawa could have had with the real thing.
HIDDEN FORTRESS is an atypical Kurosawa film, a light comic adventure in which the minor players Minoru Chiaki (Tahei) and Kamatari Fujiwara (Matakishi) are the real stars, and the top-billed player, Toshiro Mifune, gives one of his most intense and understated performances in what is really a supporting role. It is a comic epic in which Kurosawa, in no mood for grand themes and didactic lessons. With HIDDEN FORTRESS, Kurosawa just wants to amuse us with silly characters and dazzle us with exciting action sequences, thundering horses and "a cast of millions", all played out in Tohoscope, the new widescreen format that obviously did not intimidate the director in the least.
Near the end of the film, the captured princess (actress Misa Uehara) mentions that she doesn't mind dying, because she's finally had some fun. If there is a message to this film, it is that. Don't mind that HIDDEN FORTRESS is not IKIRU or SEVEN SAMURAI. It is a bit of fun from Kurosawa. Enjoy it. - JB