The Hidden Fortress (1958)


Introduction

The Hidden Fortress (隠し砦の三悪人, Kakushi toride no san akunin, literally, “The Three Villains of the Hidden Fortress”) is a 1958 jidaigeki adventure film directed by Akira Kurosawa.

It narrates the story of two peasants who agree to escort a man and a woman across enemy lines in return for gold without knowing that he is a general and the woman is a princess.

The film stars Toshiro Mifune as General Makabe Rokurōta (真壁 六郎太) and Misa Uehara as Princess Yuki while the role of the peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, are portrayed by Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara respectively.

A remake, Hidden Fortress: The Last Princess, was released in 2008.

Outline

Two bedraggled peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, intend to join the feudal Yamana clan in battle, but having arrived too late, are taken for soldiers of the defeated Akizuki clan, and forced to bury the dead. After quarrelling and splitting up, the two are both again captured separately and forced to dig for gold in the Akizuki castle with other prisoners. After a prisoner uprising, Tahei and Matashichi escape.

Near a river they find gold marked with the crescent of the Akizuki clan. Planning to evade the Yamana soldiers who are preventing refugees and defeated Akizuki clansmen from crossing the frontier to Hayakawa, the peasants encounter a mysterious man who takes them to a hidden Akizuki fortress. Unbeknown to them, the man is a general of the defeated Akizuki clan, Makabe Rokurōta. Although Rokurōta was planning on killing the peasants, on hearing their plan, he decides it is so ingenious, he will let them live. They will travel to Yamana itself and then pass into Hayakawa through a different border. Rokurōta decides, without revealing anything to the peasants, to move the Akizuki Princess Yuki to Hayakawa, whose lord is an ally of the Akizuki clan.

Rokurōta escorts Princess Yuki and what remains of her family’s gold to Hayakawa, with Matashichi and Tahei travelling with them. In order to keep her identity secret, Yuki poses as a mute so that she doesn’t inadvertently speak in the usual mode characteristic of a noblewoman. During their travels, the peasants impede their progress and sometimes try to seize the gold. They are later joined by a farmer’s daughter, whom they acquire from an innkeeper.

They avoid being captured on one occasion by Rokurōta killing four soldiers of a Yamana patrol, including two soldiers Rokurōta has to pursue on horseback. However, Rokurōta ends up in a Yamana camp, where the general in charge is Rokurōta’s friendly rival, Hyoe Tadokoro. Tadokoro states that he is sorry he didn’t face Rokurōta in battle and decides to have a lance duel, which Rokurōta wins, but Rokurōta refuses to kill Tadokoro. Rokurōta tells Tadokoro they will meet again and then leaves the camp on horseback to get back to the Princess.

Eventually, they are captured by Yamana soldiers close to a post on the Hayakawa border and held prisoner to be executed. In the confusion, Matashichi and Tahei are able to hide and avoid being taken prisoner. Tadokoro comes to identify the prisoners before the soldiers take them to be executed. Tadokoro shows a large face scar and explains it is a result of a beating ordered by the Yamana lord for losing the duel with Rokurōta. The Princess proclaims that, even facing death, she has enjoyed the trip and getting to know humanity’s ugliness and beauty closely. The next day as the soldiers start marching the prisoners to be executed, Tadokoro suddenly defects to the Akizuki side with the Princess, Rokurōta and the farmer’s daughter. The group manages to escape along with the horses carrying the gold.

After the Princess and Rokurōta’s escape, Matashichi and Tahei stumble upon the gold which is carried by the horses, but are then arrested by Hayakawa soldiers. The soldiers take the peasants to see the general, whereupon Rokurōta explains Yuki’s true identity, and states that all of the gold will be used to restore her family’s domain. The peasants are then released, taking a single ryō. Finally, Tahei gives this to Matashichi to protect; but Matashichi allows Tahei to keep it.

Cast

  • Toshiro Mifune as General Rokurota Makabe (真壁 六郎太, Makabe Rokurota).
  • Minoru Chiaki as Tahei (太平).
  • Kamatari Fujiwara as Matashichi (又七).
  • Susumu Fujita as General Hyoe Tadokoro (田所 兵衛, Tadokoro Hyoe).
  • Takashi Shimura as General Izumi Nagakura (長倉 和泉, Nagakura Izumi).
  • Misa Uehara as Princess Yuki (雪姫, Yuki-hime).
  • Eiko Miyoshi as Yuki’s lady-in-waiting.
  • Toshiko Higuchi as farmer’s daughter bought from slave trader.
  • Yū Fujiki as barrier guard.
  • Yoshio Tsuchiya as samurai on horse.
  • Kokuten Kōdō as old man in front of sign.
  • Kōji Mitsui as pit guard.

Trivia

  • This was Kurosawa’s first feature filmed in a widescreen format, Tohoscope, which he continued to use for the next decade.
  • Hidden Fortress was originally presented with Perspecta directional sound, which was re-created for the Criterion Blu-ray release.
  • Key parts of the film were shot in Hōrai Valley in Hyōgo.
  • The Hidden Fortress was released theatrically in Japan on 28 December 1958.
    • The film was the highest-grossing film for Toho in 1958, ranking as the fourth overall highest-grossing films in Japan that year.
    • In box-office terms, The Hidden Fortress was Kurosawa’s most successful film, until the 1961 release of Yojimbo.
  • George Lucas has acknowledged the heavy influence of The Hidden Fortress on Star Wars (1977), particularly in the technique of telling the story from the perspective of the film’s lowliest characters, C-3PO and R2-D2.
    • Lucas’s original plot outline for Star Wars (1977) also had a strong resemblance to the plot of The Hidden Fortress, which would be reused for The Phantom Menace (1999).
  • The Japanese-inspired video game Shogo: Mobile Armour Division features a level called “The Hidden Fortress”, one of many tributes (including a level called “High and Low”) to Kurosawa in the game.
  • A loose remake entitled Kakushi Toride no San-Akunin: The Last Princess was directed by Shinji Higuchi and released on 10 May 2008.

Production & Filming Details

  • Director(s): Akira Kurosawa.
  • Producer(s): Sanezumi Fujimoto and Akira Kurosawa.
  • Writer(s): Ryuzo Kikushima, Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto, and Akira Kurosawa.
  • Music: Masara Sato.
  • Cinematography: Kazuro Yamasaki.
  • Editor(s): Akira Kurosawa.
  • Production: Toho.
  • Distributor(s):
  • Release Date: 28 December 1958 (Japan).
  • Running time: 139 minutes.
  • Country: Japan.
  • Language: Japanese.

Video Link

 

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