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Blu-ray Shopping Bag: Criterion Collection - Hidden Fortress

Foundation for Star Wars

By Robert T. Trate     March 25, 2014
Source: Mania.com


Hidden Fortress (Spine #116) from Criterion Collection
© Criterion Collection
All the true die hard Star Wars fans know that the basis for George Lucas’ epic film is Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress (1958). George Lucas has never hidden the fact that he was inspired by this story of a general, a princess, and two fools that save a country. With the Criterion Collection re-releasing many their original films on Blu-ray, it has come time to revisit The Hidden Fortress (Spine #116).

Much like the original Star Wars, The Hidden Fortress is told from the perspective of the lowest characters. In Star Wars, the droids are the window into the this world of Jedi, Sith, and a rebellion. In Kurosawa’s film, our window comes in the form of two peasant fools who have left the war behind. In need of common necessities, they wonder the land searching for riches to take home. We are first introduced to Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) and Tahei (Minoru Chiaki), our fools, in a long shot where we never see what is coming towards them. This introduction to the characters is a style and theme that Kurosawa uses throughout the film. We are left with watching our characters’ fear at what approaches them. This, in turn, adds to our own apprehension and brings us over to the side of these peasants.

We witness the status of their lives, their greed, and then the two men are captured and forced to mine for gold that is hidden inside a castle. Unbeknownst to their captors, this gold they are searching for resides in a hidden fortress, which is just a stone’s throw away. After Matashichi and Tahei escape, they discover the gold is hidden in the tree branches at the base of a great mountain. What they discover next kicks the story in high gear; enter General Rokurota Makabe (Toshiro Mifune) and Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara). The general enlists the help of these two fools by agreeing to split the gold with them. He knows that their greed will ensure their allegiance. It is decided that the princess will pretend to be mute, thus hiding her identity. General Rokurota Makabe must get her and the gold through enemy lines to save the kingdom. 

The presence of Toshiro Mifune is clearly felt when he arrives on screen. At first our two fools are the lead characters, much like R2-D2 and C-3PO, but they quickly give way to General Rokurota Makabe. The story really is his and we are left in awe of all that he has to deal with. He has a head strong princess, two bungling idiots, and an army out after him. When they come to a small town, the general picks up another peasant, only she turns out to be more of an ally. 

What any fan of the genre will appreciate is Kurosawa’s use of the long lenses and takes that fill the screen. When the princess is discovered on the road, General Rokurota Makabe leaps to a horse, bares his sword, and gallops at full stride ready for combat. The fight is not only impressive, but takes place completely on horse back with Mifune never even grabbing the reins. Kurosawa knew how to establish character, action, and story all at the same frame. It is that method of storytelling that allows his films to stand the test of time. 

Criterion Collection has updated their release with a new 2K digital restoration with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack for the Blu-ray. They have also recorded a new audio commentary by film historian, Stephen Prince, author of “The Warrior’s Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa”. Their original special features are included as well (see expert from the George Lucas interview below). For those that have never seen the film, Star Wars fan or not, it is an epic story with clever characters and stunning cinematography. Yet another perfect release from Criterion to add to your library. 
 
 

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2. Hercules Against the Moonmen
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COMMENTS AND RESPONSES

Showing items 1 - 2 of 2
1 
wrrlykam 3/25/2014 3:09:16 AM

I'm ashamed to say that my DVD copy of Hidden Fortress has been on the shelf for quite a few years and never been opened. I really must get around to watching it.

mellowdoux 3/26/2014 9:57:23 AM

 Zombie Dawn: Chronicles of the Walking Dead???
Yeah... I'm guessing that's one of those Asylum releases...
 

1 

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