Review: Kakushi-toride No San-akunin (The Hidden Fortress, 1958)


So, which one is R2-D2 and which one is C-3PO?

Written By: Shinobu Hashimoto, Ryuzo Kikushima, Akira Kurosawa & Hideo Oguni
Directed By: Akira Kurosawa

At long last I have seen the movie that inspired George Lucas to make Star Wars. I can see the inspiration, but I can also see a much better movie, go figure! Jabs at Star Wars aside Kakushi-toride No San-akunin is the classic buddy adventure comedy. There are a few moments when it loses its way, but on the whole it stays true to what I expect from that type of movie. It is funny when needed, serious when it needs to be with just a smidgen of action and a quiet deepness.

Tahei and Matakishi are the classic hapless idiots. They complain and bitch about everything that happens in their lives. They are easily overpowered and bossed around and under no circumstances can they ever stand up for themselves. Oh, they have moments of bravado, but those moments are quickly squelched by any character that happens to be close by. At the same time, Tahei and Matakishi somehow manage to always make an important discovery or lead the group down the right path. They are funny because they are inept, yet despite their ineptitude they get the job done and make you laugh along the way. There is one moment that is odd, they are alone with the Princess and they appear ready to rape the girl they think is mute. That scene doesn’t play well at all with the movie being presented. Thankfully the prostitute shows up and stops them to somewhat redeem that scene and those characters.

As I said, Kakushi-toride No San-akunin is a funny movie. Most of the humor is supplied by Tahei and Matakishi, but plenty is also supplied by the straight forward way Toshirô Mifune chooses to play General Makabe. In his straight delivery and reactions there is plenty of humor to be found. The General isn’t all humor though, he also exists as the dramatic drive of the film. His ideas of nobility in concordance with the Princesses anti-nobility provide the film with its more dramatic moments and tone.

The one area where Akira Kurosawa nailed the group dynamic presented in Kakushi-toride No San-akunin was the weaknesses that were established in every character. Our traveling troupe is very flawed, yet they also have their strengths. This creates a scenario where each and every one of them are constantly trying to exploit the other while at the same time each and every one of them is showcasing their strengths that the others don’t realize they have or that they may view as a weakness. In this regard Kurosawa presents an interesting group of people and a group where the interactions are intriguing on a human dynamic level.

The film does get a bit too repetitive, at one point I began to wonder just how many times they could have Tahei and Matakishi try to run away from the group only to fail and come back once again. There were also some moments that were too on the nose in their delivery. For instance when the Princess is having an early dramatic moment, the close-up of her looking over the land that she now needs to rebuild was enough to get the point across to the audience. The overlay of her clan’s flag over her face was a bit too much. Lastly, there was the spear duel between the two generals. I understand its purpose, but it deviates so far from the group dynamic that has been established that it feels like it belongs in a different movie. So, while I understand it’s place in conjunction with the ending, that could have been handled better.

It’s not Kurosawa’s greatest work, but Kakushi-toride No San-akunin is still a great movie. It looks gorgeous, has some great performances and is entertaining and intriguing throughout. It could have used some tweaking here and there, but it’s still a lesser Kurosawa that is worth your time. And hey, it’s way better than Star Wars, not that that’s any sort of achievement, but now you know and knowing is half the battle!




4 responses to “Review: Kakushi-toride No San-akunin (The Hidden Fortress, 1958)

  1. A fair assessment. I don’t think it’s one of the director’s best work. It’s solid, but nothing more. Of course, a ‘solid’ Kurosawa film kicks the crap out of almost everything else anyways. I watched it not long ago (maybe 2 or 3 months ago) and I can’t say that I remember a whole lot about it. It just feels more like a throwaway Kurosawa film. It’s a good one since I was entertained, but not one his most memorable efforts.

    I remember there being some gorgeous shots in the film, especially when Makabe leads Tahei and Matakishi to his hideout. That location struck me as beautiful. The scene near the beginning when Tahei and Matakishi are walking amonst the rubble and corpses is another visually memorable moment.

    And yes, it is better than Star Wars A New Hope, although I imagine that wasn’t hard to beat in your opinion.

  2. Akira Kurosawa’s “Hidden Fortress” (1958) – a duel episode between two generals. Only one of the generals is fighting to kill – the other one is using the fight not in order to kill or wound or humiliate the opponent but to cure him from the militancy complex (from believing that combat is a way to settle human problems). The duel is the biggest episode in “Hidden Fortress” because Kurosawa is staging the fight with a lot of psychological information about what fighters feel and think during the fight. Kurosawa transforms the psychology of the fighter we see analyzed inside the psychology of the fight into the psychology of a peaceful conflict negotiation, and elaborates a concept how to use military force for anti-war purposes. See the article “Akira Kurosawa’s Instructions to Heads of States” and the analysis of screen shots from “Hidden Fortress” (posted on Sept. 5, 2009) at: By Victor

  3. Edgar – There are some beautiful shots in the film, those are what have stuck with me most.

    Victor – Thanks for the information.

  4. Pingback: The Hidden Fortress/Kakushi-toride no san-akunin (1958) | timneath

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