A Month of Kurosawa: The Hidden Fortress (1958)

To celebrate the upcoming release of my book, Akira Kurosawa: A Viewer’s Guide, due out Dec. 15 from Rowman & Littlefield — preorder here! — I’ll be doing capsule reviews all month covering every single Kurosawa film and posting (very) brief excerpts. These will be short impressions and recommendations, nothing more. For a full, detailed analysis of each, grab the book!

The Hidden Fortress (1958)

The Hidden Fortress may be best known for being a major inspiration for Star Wars — George Lucas says the inspiration for R2-D2 and C-3PO came from this movie, but in fact he lifted much of the plot from it, too, along with characters like Obi-Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia — but focusing overmuch on that connection undersells just how much fun The Hidden Fortress is. It’s a huge, action-packed adventure that practically anyone (and of any age) can enjoy.

Here, Toshiro Mifune plays a rough old general helping a fierce princess cross enemy lines. They’re accompanied by two bickering peasants. The movie is filled with them getting out of tight scrapes, clever plans falling apart, narrow escapes, and bursts of rousing action. Though this is one of Mifune’s more endearing works, Princess Yuki, played with ferocity by Misa Uehara), often steals the show.

From the book:

The Hidden Fortress may not be as thematically rich as the films that preceded it, focusing instead on perfecting a particular brand of action movie, but the brilliance of its craftsmanship cannot be denied. It’s no wonder that it influenced the biggest pop culture phenomenon in film history, Star Wars.

This one is easy to recommend, especially for casual fans just looking to see what all the fuss is about when it comes to Kurosawa and adventure films. From the book:

The Hidden Fortress is unabashedly fun, a thrilling, lighthearted romp through swords and laughter that ended up being a huge hit with audiences and that closed out Kurosawa’s remarkable run at Toho with a bang. He set out to make a mainstream movie and succeeded. To this day, The Hidden Fortress is arguably one of the best ways to introduce someone to the director’s work, too.

Don’t hesitate on this one. It’s way too much fun to skip.

Check out my upcoming book for a full analysis exploring this film’s ideas, themes, good points, and bad

You can get the movie in excellent edition by the Criterion Collection.


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