Ruth and I have been watching a lot of movies while quarantined and unable to travel. This week we came across a movie neither one of us had heard of that turned out to be a big surprise. It’s a rare and different film that I must call an intimate epic named The Hidden Fortress.
This time of travel inaction has introduced Ruth and me to the Criterion Collection. The Hidden Fortress is Spine #116. I don’t know what that means yet, but I do know that Criterion steadily cleans up, promotes, and releases classic films. We watched this hidden gem of a movie in a new 2K digital restoration on Apple/I Tunes. In fact, it was so good that I saw it twice, which is possible via a single $3.99 rental.
The Hidden Fortress is one of Akira Kurosawa’s 30 endeavors. He is the Japanese master who made movies for 6 decades. Many of them have been exhibited internationally and won awards. He is justifiably famous around the world for such great films as Seven Samurai and Rashomon. Both have been remade as successful American films. Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven and the first Kurosawa movie Criterion released way back in 1998. Criterion has since shared 25 more of Kurosawa’s movies with its audience, including The Hidden Fortress. Criterion has also released one documentary about this accomplished director.
The Hidden Fortress is a long, grand-scale adventure epic. It’s unusual in that it mixes humor and horror in equal proportions. Scenes of serious battle and death are interspersed with comic inventions involving 2 failed soldiers who find a gold bar in some firewood to set the story in motion. There are 4 main characters. The 2 most important ones are a couple of funny, bumbling, competitive peasants named Tahai and Matashichi. The other 2 are a military general and a deposed princess. It all works cleverly, and The Hidden Fortress is now considered one of Kurosawa’s best works. Made in 1958, this film influenced George Lucas as he prepared to make the first Star Wars movie. Lucas claims that it was his main inspiration and that the bumbling peasants were his models for R2-D2 and C-3PO.
The Hidden Fortress is long at 139 minutes and surprisingly intimate for an acclaimed epic. Ruth and I plan to learn more about Criterion and Kurosawa. The other Japanese film we really liked was Woman in the Dunes.