This is a guest post from Andrew Robinson, author of the movie blog gmanReviews. Andrew will present you with his Classic Corner pick every Wednesday for your reading pleasure.
A couple of years ago, I had never watched a film directed by Akira Kurosawa, then I met the internet and it immediately made me have to amend that. To this point I have probably watched a dozen, probably more, of his films and he never ceases to amaze me. His use of characters in a style that is so unlike anything you see in modern cinema while at the same time being able to put character arcs that still remain relevant (and copied) in every movie you watch today just leaves me dumbfounded every time.
So this week, in my random viewings of Kurosawa cinema that I’ve yet to watch I managed to sit down and watch the movie that George Lucas claims heavily influenced him in his work with Star Wars (i.e. the property that he managed to strike gold with and refuses to believe that it’s been made barren), The Hidden Fortress. This movie is what you would get if Lucas decided, instead of Star Wars, to make a movie called The Misadventures of Two Bumbling Droids and had people instead of droids.
In this movie, we follow Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) as they try to get home from the war. After discovering that the border that allows them to cross directly to their home nation is too well guarded by the overthrowing nation, they decide to trek through enemy territory to get home. Along the way they meet General Rokurota (Toshiro Mifune) and Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara). The General uses the peasants’ greed against them to make them help, unknowingly, transport 200 pieces of gold and the Princess across enemy territory and into the peaceful nation of Hayakawa.
Out of all of the Kurosawa movies I have seen so far, the one genre I’ve never seen him try and do is comedy and he takes a minor stroke at it with this film, once again surprising me with his range. This pair of peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, plays off each other perfectly in every scene, swinging from a bickering married couple to the best of friends while at the same time always making questionable decisions that allow for their fortune to keep swaying from one extreme to the next and not make me hate them as characters.
I have always, from the first time I saw Rashomon, thought of Mifune as a great actor and probably among one of the best. It’s always hard for me, as a person from the western civilization, to gauge performances from Eastern cinema due to cultural differences. However, Mifune has always been able to be that bridge between the West and East when it comes to the art of performance. At no point during a Mifune performance do you brush aside an action and/or emotion and classify it as a “Japanese thing that I just don’t get”. He’s great and it shows in this movie.
With the use of the General, the film is allowed to also move along the overall plot without much trouble. When you think of it that way the story is more of one of the General and Princess Yuki, but you as a viewer would never want to hear it from their perspective since it would not only paint Tahei and Matashichi in a poor light, but it would also cut them out from most of the movie which is the most enjoyable part.
Notes: 126 minutes