(Alternate Titles: Three Rascals in a Hidden Fortress; The Three Villains of the Hidden Fortress)
(Japanese Title: Kakushi-toride no san-akunin)

With Toshiro Mifune, Misa Uehara, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Takashi Shimura
Directed by
Akira Kurosawa
Black and White
Reviewed by JB

"So you DON'T want the piano?"    HIDDEN FORTRESS, a tale of a general, a princess, and two peasants making their way through enemy lines with 200 pieces of hidden gold, is one of the few films Kurosawa intended as pure entertainment.

     The bumbling peasants of HIDDEN 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.  With 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 revolt), 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 what 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

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Copyright © 2008 John V. Brennan, John Larrabee