Kakushi toride no san akunin (The Hidden Fortress), 1958
Dir: Akira Kurosawa
August 18, 2009
From all of the the Kurosawa that I've seen, this is as probably the closest to pure comedy he gets. That's not to say that this is bad, or that it's strictly a comedy, but that's the type of Samurai epic that you are getting with The Hidden Fortress. A general (Toshirō Mifune) and a princess (Misa Uehara) must dodge enemy clans while smuggling the royal treasure out of hostile territory with two bumbling, conniving peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) at their sides.
This blockbuster samurai adventure is made all the more memorable for those buffoonish peasant sidekicks, who not only steal the film from Mifune and his swagger, but nearly upstage their visionary director and his studied use of wide-screen photography for the first time. Of course that's impossible; utilizing the studio's newfangled “Toho-scope”, Kurosawa was able to fill his stretched frame with planes of action and nature's natural clutter, reserving close-ups, apart from his usual picky telephoto decisions, for the more dramatic moments between Mifune, the princess, and rival general/friend Susumu Fujita. Scenes of the fire festival are especially great, as is the the the scene where Mifune rides down two soldiers, and then proceeds to the always mandatory samurai duel, this time with spears.
But for all the brilliant film making theatrics, the conventional plot wouldn't be as entertaining without our entry into the action, through Chiaki and Fujiwara's bickering peasants, who are separated by a slave trade just long enough to learn of a stash of gold pieces hidden throughout the land in tree branches, a wonderfully hilarious device to represent the film's themes of nobility and heroism over self and greed. With this Kurosawa bridged the gap between sweeping action symbolism (Seven Samurai (1954)), heady literary action (Throne of Blood (1957)) and westernized ironic action (Yojimbo (1961)), proving yet again to be one of the most malleable cinematic craftsmen in the world.