Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Hidden Fortress

The Hidden Fortress is arguably the most unique epic Kurosawa made. It’s “hero” is of secondary interest to the story, we never see the war at hand in action, and the Fortress is of little significance other than a starting point for the adventure. So let’s break it down to how the infamous director handles this unusual structure.

The epic genre often has a central figure with a strong supporting cast in tow, perhaps two protagonists if there’s a love story to boot. Here, we have a determined soldier (played of course by Toshiro Mifune), a bratty princess, and two comic sidekicks. Except…our sidekicks (played hilariously by Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) have more screen time and influence the plot more than anyone else in the massive cast. Just like in Star Wars: A New Hope we find our Japanese C-3PO and R2-D2 wandering a desert after a battle of which we don’t really understand. Now imagine if those two Lucas characters, while still not the heroes per say, were the focus of the film. Kurosawa’s characters are untrusting, crude fellows whose suspect motives make even their own friendship unsacred. At times they flat out abandon the plot in pursuit of their own goal of returning to their home. If this alone catches your fancy then by all means, see The Hidden Fortress and read no more.

As said before, this is an epic that really picks and chooses when to be “epic”. The early scenes at a labor camp and the cities the cast visits are the grandest sights to be seen. There’s very little violence or even fighting in the films 139 minute run time. We are treated to some spectacular engagements of mobs of people struggling in what is effectively conveyed as wartime. These moments are used expertly to make our heroes feel so small among the chaos and the few fight scenes we get are exhilarating (especially the spear duel).

Finally the Hidden Fortress itself is as unconventional as the rest of the film. It is literally two buildings with a secret underground passage hidden in a small canyon. That’s it and it serves only to introduce the princess. This encapsulates the only real flaw of the film: for a two hour plus movie it meanders too much. But the biting humor, spectacle, and good heartedness make it overall a worth while view.

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