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Akira Kurasawa’s The Hidden Fortress, with Misa Uehara, is the comic adventure that inspired George Lucas’s Star Wars.
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THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (Criterion, 1958) D: Akira Kurosawa, w/ Toshiro Mifune, Misa Uehara. Rating: NNNN; DVD-Blu-ray package: NNNNN Rating: NNNNN
We don't generally associate Akira Kurosawa with comic adventure. But that's what the director of major classics like The Seven Samurai and Kagemusha goes for in The Hidden Fortress, achieving it without abandoning his clear-eyed humanism and beautiful visual style.
A pair of peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) hoping to make a buck from a clan war get roped into helping a samurai general from the losing side (Toshiro Mifune) shepherd his princess (Misa Uehara) and a cargo of gold safely through enemy lines.
Greedy, cowardly and eternally squabbling, the peasants provide such a lively contrast to Mifune's stone-faced, duty-obsessed general that the princess's gradual awakening to the beauties of life almost escapes notice.
Working for the first time in widescreen, Kurosawa gives the film a strong sense of motion, tracking back while panning during a horse chase, for example, or swiftly moving from a panoramic wide shot to a large close-up of one character . His gorgeous compositions have the epic sweep of old-school westerns.
The Hidden Fortress is most famous for being the inspiration for Star Wars. In an extras interview, George Lucas explains what he took, but he's more interesting on Kurosawa's visual style. The 40-minute making-of doc thoroughly examines the production, and the commentary goes into great detail on style, Kurosawa's influences and the nuances of widescreen shooting.
EXTRAS Commentary, making-of doc, Lucas interview, print essay. Japanese audio. English subtitles.