The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Greed is one of the seven deadly sins, so they say, and it can come in many forms. Avarice is the most common, of course, that desire for money or something of material worth. History is littered with stories of greed for money and the often deadly actions it will force individuals into purely for its acquisition. The sad reality is there is enough money in the world to be evenly distributed to every soul and doing so would mean each one of us could have food and shelter for all time. Greed will always prevent such a dream unfortunately. In Akira Kurosawa’s 1958 action adventure, The Hidden Fortress, we have a 2+ hours feature that centres around greed.
The film opens with peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, who arrive late for a war between the rival clans – Yamana and Akizuki. Their opening escapades involve misunderstandings and confusion before the down on their luck pair see their fortunes turn when they discover gold in a river. They soon encounter a mysterious man, Rokurota, who is a warrior of some sort and has taken refuge in a hidden fortress in the mountains along with a young woman who remains tight-lipped. Rokurota seems to know a thing or two about the gold the two peasants have found but seems reluctant to share more, both knowledge and additional gold. With the Yamana clan running rampant and seeking out anyone loyal to the Akizuki clan, Tahei and Matashichi suddenly find themselves joining with Rokurota and the silent woman in a perilous journey to a safe haven across the heavily guarded border. The question is can Tahei and Matashichi resist the lure of gold or is this delicate alliance destined to be doomed?
I have been relatively vague in describing the story of The Hidden Fortress here and that is deliberate to avoid spoiling a carefully crafted narrative. As with other Akira Kurosawa’s flicks, there is a lot to appreciate here with some stunning sets, great camera work and great acting in a film that is often serious but also comedic with Tahei and Matashichi providing light relief, while Misa Uehara is both beautiful and intimidating as the young woman who favours silence. Kurosawa regular, Toshiro Mifune, takes on the role of Rokurota and he is as imperious as the many other roles he has performed in the Japanese director’s canon. A true Japanese acting legend if ever there was one. The Hidden Fortress has been cited by George Lucas as a key influence on Star Wars and it is interesting to try and pinpoint which elements may have contributed so strongly to that sci-fi saga. Everything Kurosawa does is on an epic scale and this one belongs alongside the likes of Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Yojimbo. Strangely enough though, my favourite Kurosawa remains Ikiru, a complete contrast to the films mentioned here. I guess that demonstrates the director’s versatility.
Verdict: A sweeping, majestic, action adventure from Kurosawa’s collection.