Classic Movie Review: The Hidden Fortress (1958)


Title: The Hidden Fortress
Release Date: 28 December 1958
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Production Company: Toho
Summary/Review:

What I knew about this movie going in is that it was unique for its time as telling a period drama/war story from the perspective of two low-level peasants.  What I didn’t know is that the peasants are portrayed as whiny, craven, greedy, and would-be-rapists. Despite it’s bottom-up perspective, The Hidden Fortress still ends up showing the elite characters as being more noble people.

Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) have attempted to fight in a war among the provincial clans, but showing up late are instead forced to bury the dead, and then are captured and forced to dig for gold.  Escaping, they decide to return home not by crossing the heavily-patrolled border but by taking the long route through territory of a third clan.

Along the way, they discover gold near the titular hidden fortress.  A stranger, General Rokurota Makabe (Toshiro Mifune) follows them and then puts them to work finding more gold. Liking their plan of traveling the long way around, Rokurōta uses Tahei and Matashichi’s greed to get them to help carry the gold and transport a young woman (in surprisingly modern-looking shorts), who is revealed to the audience as Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara).

The movie depicts their adventures which are a mix of comic, swashbuckling, and sublime.  My favorite part is a scene in which they try to blend in with the locals at a festival and join in a communal dance.  Rokurōta also has a duel with his rival general Hyoe Tadokoro (Susumu Fujita) which ends up paying dividends later.

The Hidden Fortress is gritty, rather shouty, and does feature its lead characters talking about raping Princess Yuki on more than one occasion.  It’s not the most comfortable movie to watch, but it does have a lot of the basics of a great adventure story (if you like that kind of thing).

Rating: ***