Akira Kurosawa’s movies always carried some meaning in them. Most of the times he was using his movies as a medium to convey some meaningful message. This is why if you look down the list of movies that he had made ‘Hidden Fortress’ is sure to stand out. This is because for once Kurosawa wanted to have fun with it all and wanted everyone who watched it to have fun too. So you get ‘The Hidden Fortress’ (The Japanese title is Kakushi toride no san akunin meaning the three villains of the hidden fortress) which is an action/adventure/comedy.
The story is narrated almost entirely from the point of view of two peasants Tahei and Matakishi. They had set out to join a three way war between rival clans: Akizuki, Hayakawa and Yamana. But unfortunately they reached the war too late and to top their misery they are mistaken to be members of the defeated Akizuki by the victorious Yamana and are made to dig graves all day for the dead. They somehow manage to escape from there and that is when we meet them.
Image Courtesy: thegline.com
During their travels they discover that a reward has been set for the head of the Akizuki Princess Yuki. They also discover by chance some gold hidden within firewood which they understand to be the Royal Property of Akizuki. During their efforts to discover more gold they meet a man who acts as a bully. They tell him that they are trying to get to Hayakawa by passing right through Yamana as they believe that it would be easier to cross the borders of Akizuki-Yamana and Yamana-Hayakawa than crossing the borders of Akizuki-Hayakawa.
The bully is impressed with this idea and reveals himself to be General Rokurota Makabe, a great samurai general of Akizuki. The peasants however do not believe him. They also encounter a beautiful 16 year old girl whom the General claims as his woman and also informs them that she is mute. In reality she is Princess Yuki and the General had instructed her not to speak because her imperious manner of speech would give her away.
The general gets the peasants to work for him and carry the load of firewood and gold by inciting their greed. He promises them an equal share of the gold and that’s what drives them to go through the arduous journey ahead. His real intention is to rebuild the Akizuki clan using the gold as seed money. Thus the small group sets off on their journey through enemy lines and the rest of the movie is about their adventures during the same.
Image Courtesy: lovehkfilm.com
Unlike in his earlier movies Kurosawa does not spend too much time in developing the characters. He therefore tells the movie from the point of view of the two peasants. This frees him from the necessity of developing the characters and just concentrating on their adventures. There is no great character shift either. The General is all heroic, the princess is all regal and brash, and the peasants are bumbling fools right through to the very end. Maybe one can argue that the peasants become better friends and have gotten a hold on their greed by the end of the movie. But even that is not emphasized because we see that these two guys were always good friends and the reward that they get in the end is too insignificant to be fighting over.
The movie also has elements of ‘The prince and the Pauper’. The princess, by donning the disguise of a commoner is able to see the life of normal people in a better light. In the princess’s own words, “I was able to see the beauty and the ugliness of man”. She is also able to realize the importance of kindness to others. The slave girl that she rescues later protects her and is even ready to sacrifice herself for her. She is even able to change the mind of General Hyoe Tadokoro, whose life General Makabe had spared after a duel in which Makabe had defeated Tadokoro. Tadokoro later on helps them escape and even joins their ranks.
Image Courtesy: thegline.org
Toshiro Mifune in this movie is majestic. After Seven Samurai he now gets a chance to play an over the top character. The difference here is that he is the hero who is all brave and valor instead of being the foolish, hooting farmer in Seven Samurai. His presence electrifies the screen and you just can’t take your eyes off him.
This is an out and out fun movie. George Lucas has said many times that his Star Wars was inspired by this movie. A direct reference can be found in the similarities of the characters of Tahei and Matakishi with R2D2 and C3P0. The movie has everything in it; action, adventure, comedy and drama. Even the way the group deals their troubles along the way has everything in it. They have to rely on their cunning, valor and sometimes even on plain dumb luck to get through. The cinematography of this movie is absolutely stunning for its era. Overall the master lets his hair down and wants us to do the same while watching this movie.
Reviews of Akira Kurosawa's Major works
Rhapsody In August (1991)