Home Video Hovel- The Hidden Fortress, by Tyler Smith
I must confess that I’m among the many people that, upon hearing about Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress, immediately start thinking about Star Wars. George Lucas has openly stated a lot of Kurosawa influence on his 1977 film, and, for many, the film has since become a curiosity; a work of art sought out only due to what it led to.
This is unfortunate, as The Hidden Fortress is a marvelous film that deserves to be remembered as a more fun and adventurous addition to the works of a master filmmaker. It has many of the things that make for a standard quest film, but with a sweeping grandeur that lends the story an air of legend.
In feudal Japan, two kingdoms are at war. Our story begins with a princess stuck in enemy territory. She must return back to her kingdom safely with the stockpile of gold in her possession, or her people will be lost. She hides the gold in sticks of wood and sets out with a noble warrior on the treacherous journey to get back home. Along the way, they are joined by two cowardly refugees and a former slave girl. This ragtag team can barely keep from attacking one another, much less slip past entire armies undetected. Nonetheless, the princess and the warrior are committed to their cause and won’t let anyone get in their way.
This fairly simple story is set against an ever-changing backdrop of craggy mountains, lush forests, and crowded cities. We really feel like we’re going on a sort of odyssey with these characters. Each new circumstance brings with it new obstacles. Sometimes they are geographical, other times meteorological, and still others militaristic. Kurosawa wisely shoots these different locations in such a way as to always emphasize the challenge presented; we are never really allowed a moment to relax and feel safe.
Of course, all of this makes it sound as though the film were some sort of intense, exhausting experience. Far from it. Kurosawa retains a sense of fun and adventure throughout, evoking the types of stories we enjoyed when we were kids. This sense is compounded with horse exhilarating horse chases and exciting sword fights.
The Hidden Fortress feels like a celebration of storytelling and filmmaking. And maybe of art, in general, come to think of it. By creating watchable characters in what feels like an age-old tale, and giving it the epic treatment, Akira Kurosawa pulls us into a world of intrigue and excitement, and we are only too willing to go along. Watching this film made me feel like a kid again, awed at the world around me, eager to see what happens next.