Oh Kurosawa, you fickle fiend you. Some of your movies are simply amazing (Rashomon, Seven Samurai), others have deceptively misleading titles (Throne of Blood), while others are kind of a wash. The Hidden Fortress is one of those movies that, while nothing is seriously wrong with it, never really pulled together for me.
The story is a simple one. Two peasants are returning home from a war they failed to fight in, and discover hidden gold. A man appears who claims to have the rest of the gold in his ‘hidden fortress’, and wants to follow them back to their country so they can all have a safe trip. In reality, he is the recently-defeated general who, along with the surviving princess, need to flee to safety. Since they must cross enemy lands to get there, the way is full of danger.
And so it goes. The opening scene with the two peasants was quite clearly lifted wholesale by Star Wars – they whole little story is exactly R2D2 and C3PO’s when they land on Tatooine. Lucas admits that they were the inspiration for his two characters, especially how the story of The Hidden Fortress was told through two minor characters. But our Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are there mainly for comic relief and the biggest problem about the movie was, to me, their humor wasn’t quite funny enough to lift the whole two hours of the movie. Their routines wore thin, so the slow pacing really caught up with the movie by the end.
Other than the requisite bad acting from a lot of the cast that you will always see in old movies, there’s nothing else wrong with the movie. The cinematography is, of course, amazing. It’s Kurosawa! The story is interesting and the characterizations clever. Really, everything else was quite good.
But that’s why the movie was a wash. I was enjoying everything – except when our two peasants were bumbling around. And the bumbling around happened a lot. Kurosawa evidently made this movie to be a ‘popular’ movie in appreciation to the studio for letting him make plenty of experimental films, and it shows. Whenever a great director makes concessions, the finished product is nowhere near as good as it should be.