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118 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A phenomenal film in everyway
I have to confess my bias at the start: Akira Kurosawa is easily one of my two or three favorite directors. If forced to sit down and do a list of my 25 favorite films, SEVEN SAMURAI would be in a tie for first, and two or three others would join it on the list.
This was the first movie that Kurosawa made that was widescreen, and therefore the first that will...
Published on May 19, 2001 by Robert Moore

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Good, the Bad and the Mediocre sides of Kurosawa
The Hidden Fortress has some major problems with pacing and overlength. The first 15 minutes dealing with the aftermath of a war are great and the last hour is pretty good, but the hour of repetitive bickering and clumsy slapstick inbetween from the film's two unlovable clowns is incredibly grating. Yes, it's a bold move of Kurosawa to give centerstage to a couple of...
Published on January 6, 2006 by Trevor Willsmer


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118 of 128 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A phenomenal film in everyway, May 19, 2001
This review is from: The Hidden Fortress (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
I have to confess my bias at the start: Akira Kurosawa is easily one of my two or three favorite directors. If forced to sit down and do a list of my 25 favorite films, SEVEN SAMURAI would be in a tie for first, and two or three others would join it on the list.
This was the first movie that Kurosawa made that was widescreen, and therefore the first that will derive maximum benefit from DVD. (Read through the early reviews of the DVD of SEVEN SAMURAI to see some of the confusion over this.) His use of the wider angle is magnificent, presenting the view with extraordinary vistas again and again. Kurosawa never seemed to struggle with the technical aspects of filmmaking, and would later make a similarly effortless transition to color.
This is one of Kurosawa's finest films. It is difficult to say that it is his best, since his very best films are among the greatest ever made. Suffice it to say, that the film bears in every way the mark of greatness. The camera work is flawless. Though black and white, the film is gorgeous to look at every moment. The acting is impeccable, with Mifune giving a somewhat difference performance in this one. If we are more accustomed to think of him as a more fiery character, as in RASHOMON or SEVEN SAMURAI or THRONE OF BLOOD, in this one he is magisterial and aristocratic.
I think the parallels to STAR WARS are rather overblown, and anyone coming to this film looking for tones of George Lucas rather than Akira Kurosawa just may find themselves disappointed. Yes, there is a princess, and yes, there are some very small plot parallels, and yes, there are two comic characters included to provide light entertainment and to move the plot along. But none of these are crucial elements of THE HIDDEN FORTRESS.
But I do think the STAR WARS references bring up a very interesting point about Kurosawa: more than anyother foreign filmmaker in history, Kurosawa is the one with the easist relationship with American culture. People who normally dislike foregin film can respond powerfully to his films. I once showed SEVEN SAMURAI to a group of high school boys. These kids were almost in a state of mutiny, because 1) the film was black and white and 2) it was subtitled. But by the end of the evening they were all entranced and had become fans of the film.
I think the reason they responded so easily was partly because Kurosawa was a cinematic genius, but also because he had absorbed so much of American culture and film technique in his films. Just as many American films have borrowed directly from his work, so he borrowed from American sources. Many of his films bear evidence of extensive exposure to film noir and American Westerns, and several of his plots are borrowed from American and Western sources. One example: much has been made of the fact that A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was based on Kurosawa's YOJIMBO, but it is not as often noted that YOJIMBO was based on Dashiell Hammett's RED HARVEST, in which the Continental Op goes to the town of Personville (or, as a Brooklyn-accented character in the book pronounces it, Poisonville) and turns two warring criminal factions against each other.
But if you haven't seen this film, do so. Without any question one of Kurosawa's very finest films.
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46 of 52 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Kurosawa's Swashbuckling Film, January 28, 2006
This review is from: The Hidden Fortress (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
Of all the directing masters Akira Kurosawa is arguably the greatest. No matter how much praise and hyperbole is shoveled onto his films they always surprise me by how good they are. Not good in a, "this was phenomenal for the 1950's," but good as in, "this is better than just about anything we're seeing today." While watching this movie I was trying to think of an American director who even comes close, but no one quite matches Kurosawa. If Akira Kurosawa and Stanley Kubrick had a street fight in Heaven I gurantee you Kurosawa would kick Kubrick in the nuts and decapitate him inside of a minute.

This film is often described as the impetus for Star Wars. After seeing the prequel trilogy I half expected The Hidden Fortress to be an exact blueprint for Episode IV, but they're really not that similar. It turns out that George Lucas was talented back in the day. If you're looking for simularities you'll find them, but if Lucas himself hadn't mentioned how much this film influenced him I doubt anyone would be drawing parallels. For example, the two peasant characters, Tahei and Matakishi, are supposed to be the inpirations for R2-D2 and C-3PO, but they're not similar in the least. Tahei and Matakishi are slow, bumbling, greedy, and selfish. They're a far cry from Lucas' creations. R2-D2 is the butch in the relationship while C-3PO is his more feminine partner. (I have to give Lucas credit for having the guts to put a gay robot couple in a film way back in the 70's, and it's even more amazing because no one has had the guts to do it a second time. Perhaps one day gay robots will get the screen time they deserve.)

The story involves a princess and her general who are trapped behind enemy lines and must make it back to their own land. Of all the Kurosawa films I've seen this is the most commercial, and should satisfy fans of old action and adventure. Of particular interest is Toshiro Mifune who is a Kurosawa regular. He plays General Rokurota - an all around badass. When his party gets stopped by soldiers trying to hunt them down he quickly kills a couple of them, and then grabs a horse to go hunt down the two trying to escape, all the while letting out a warrior's cry. This action sequence ends in a duel between Rokurota and an opposing general he has a competitive but friendly relationship with. The duel is one of the greatest fight scenes in cinema, and not just because of the fine choreography (although that too), but because of how interesting these two characters are. They respect each other, but if they met on a battlefield then duty would prevail.

This is much more of an action adventure film than something like Roshomon, but Kurosawa still manages to throw in a lot of themes. The princess has a slight epiphony while walking among the peasants, and decides to save a girl before she becomes a sex slave; Tahei and Matakishi are both morally bankrupt but they still seem to serve a purpose in society; and General Rokurota and his rival both seem to say something about the merits and limits of honor. These themes are great and add some depth, but are subservient to sheer adventure of the film, which is how it should be.

This is a great swashbuckling film that is hands down better than any action film made in the last twenty years. Some have come close, but I think most will agree that nothing beats The Hidden Fortress. It is absolutely incredible that with all of the technical achievements over the years Kurosawa's action-adventure piece still holds up so well over the years. Incredible.
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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Anamorphic splendor... and fun!, January 21, 2006
By 
Jeffery McElroy "story teller" (Punta Gorda, FL United States) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Hidden Fortress (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
This is Kurosawa's fist use of widescreen, and it looks glorious. While he managed to simulate wider shots in his past films with an academy aspect ratio, this, rife with innumerable extras and an epic landscape, is just awesome spectacle. Like all good Kurosawa though, the story is simple, elemental, yet definitive. The two peasants/thieves are an absolute riot, and Mifune comes across with amazing presence... as fantastically usual.

Criterion does the film justice with an excellent transfer, but with little in the way of supplementary material, especially when compared to recent releases --the introduction by George Lucas on this disk is great though. For the price of this disk, the lack of audio commentary, etc... is unfortunate.

Truly a character driven story, the film boasts of people that are crass, yet lovable. Not concerned with the apocalypse like Kurosawa is in some previous and later works, Hidden fortress offers a rousing adventure, which encapsulates classic story telling at its stylistic best. As such, this is one of the favorites in my personal Kurosawa collection.
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26 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Criterion, February 12, 2000
By A Customer
Just letting you guys know, Criterion will be releasing the definitive version of this film on DVD in a few months!
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32 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'HIDDEN' Treasure, June 20, 2001
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This review is from: The Hidden Fortress (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
I'd heard about THE HIDDEN FORTRESS as a young man whenever the roots of STAR WARS were discussed. FORTRESS is always mentioned as the film that influenced George Lucas the most in crafting his STAR WARS films. It wasn't until last year that I actually decided to rent it and see what it and its director Akira Kurosawa were all about. THE HIDDEN FORTRESS was my first introduction to the incredible direction of Akira Kurosawa. I've gone on to watch several of his other films and am now a huge fan. I also discovered that quite a few Hollywood movies have their roots in Kurosawa films. Interestingly enough, an interview with George Lucas has been included on the disk as a bonus, which completes the HIDDEN FORTRESS/STAR WARS connection.
FORTRESS is a fast-moving film. It's story is reminiscent of the serials of the 1930's (including "wipes" to transition from scene to scene -- again, another technique that Lucas borrowed for STAR WARS). Our heroes leap out of frying pan into fire on several occasions.
The Japanese style of acting (at least in 1958 when this film was made) is very stylized and little over the top or "stagey". However, the stylized performances only add to the wonderful, other-worldly atmosphere of HIDDEN FORTRESS. That's one thing that I enjoyed about this Kurosawa film: it definitely takes the viewer to a world he has not seen before ... a weird, ancient and savage old-Japan.
Those are my thoughts on this film. This was the first Kurosawa I ever saw and I was very impressed. Immediately I rented YOJIMBO and HIGH AND LOW and SEVEN SAMURAI and went on to be a fan.
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19 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's Kurosawa so you've got to see it, June 20, 2001
This review is from: The Hidden Fortress (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
Most people have only heard of The Hidden Fortress through association with Star Wars. It is quite common for reviewers to say that Lucas owed The Hidden Fortress a great debt. However, you should not go into this movie thinking you are going to see some martial arts version of America's most sucessful trilogy (if you want that take a look at Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon). The Hidden Fortress is all Kurosawa and you are better off anticipating something like Yojimbo or 7 Samurai. The main similarity to Star Wars is that the tale is told from the two most insignifigant characters. The film follows two useless pesants around (much like Star wars follows around R2-D2 and C-3P0) while the action happens surrounding them. There are other similarities, but this is the most striking. As always in Kurosawa movies, there are shots that are angled a certain way to provoke a certain effect that you will probably recognize as having seen a thousand times in modern movies, but the thing that is remarkable here is that chances are this is the first time they were used. Mifune gives a typically great performance so this movie is definately worth checking out, just don't take the Star Wars comparisons too seriously. The influence is there, but if you bend over backward trying to make connections you'll miss the best that both movies have to offer.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A change of pace from Kurosawa, May 16, 2004
This review is from: The Hidden Fortress (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
A number of people, when they discuss this Kurosawa film along with The Seven Samurai and his other films, treat it like a bastard at a family reunion. Apparently, they were expecting a "HIGH DRAMA" or "BADASS" movie. If they were, then they deserve to be disappointed.
The Hidden Fortress is NOT an epic that gives great insight into the code of the samurai or other such nonsense. It's a fun romp through the misadventures of several bungling "heroes": Two greedy, cowardly peasants, a knight very similar to the young Obi-Wan Kenobi, and a bitchy, aloof Princess Yuki of Akizuki (a name that sounds like something from Dr. Seuss). They are trying to smuggle the Akizuki treasury (gold bars hidden in firewood) and the princess to safety. But greed, lust and stupidity keep getting in the way.
This movie is more of an old-style caper film than a samurai epic. The dumb, double-dealing characters are more from The Lavender Hill Mob than MacBeth. What makes the characters more interesting is that the two peasants don't hold a monopoly on greed and harebrained "cunning plans" that would make Baldric from The Black Adder proud, and the knight and the princess don't hold all the courage and nobility cards, either. In fact, the two peasants come up with a plan that literally saves their necks.
The way the film is told from the point of view of the two lowliest characters was quite novel and an obvious influence on George Lucas when he made the first Star Wars. The Hidden Fortress is a great movie in its own right, though. One shot in particular will stick in your mind. At the beginning you see a wounded samurai on foot getting cut down by horsemen. It is stark, shocking and weirdly beautiful.
To people with open minds without preconceived notions of what should and should not be in a Kurosawa film, The Hidden Fortress is a great movie.
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14 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Movie George Lucas Based Star Wars On..., December 28, 2000
By 
...although you can hardly see the influence. There exists 2 comical farmers thrown into adventures against their will, or two great swordsmen who duel in a show of skill and honor. There is a chase through a gigantic fortress (basically an entire country!) in disguise to rescue a princess.
Amazingly enough, Akira Kurosawa created the plot for Hidden Fortress by simply asking his crew to create some interesting characters, then come up with strange adventures for them to go through. The result is a masterpiece. Kurosawa draws more humanity from simply 5 minute stories than most 90 minute movies! Plenty of action, great dialog, and amazing acting all make for one of my favorite movies. Time to buy another copy, because I've worn out my first!
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Stunning transfer of a classic adventure, June 11, 2001
By 
Alexander Leach (Shipley, West Yorkshire United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Hidden Fortress (The Criterion Collection) (DVD)
I saw 'Seven Samurai' several years before this film, whereas I think watching them the other way round would have been better. This film is a rousing action adventure with few pretensions to great art, while Seven Samurai, although containing breathtaking battle scenes, is a more profound work. I'd recommend this film first, especially as it seeem to have had a larger budget with many spectacular sequences.
The film itself is marvellously entertaining, with classic characterisations from the entire cast, especially the two bickering peasants who accompany the General (Toshiro Mifune, brilliant as always) and the young princess into enemy territory.
Criterion's anamorphic DVD transfer is quite simply flawless, much finer than 'Seven Samurai', decent though that is. No nicks or scars at all, and the subtletly of varying grays is marvellous. In fact I can't think of *any* black and white film I've seen which looks better on DVD, and I've seen quite a few, like the great 1959 courtroom drama 'Anatomy Of A Murder' (James Stewart), which looks excellent (I recommend it).
Woody Allen's 'Manhattan' and Scorsese's 'Raging Bull' (which date from 1979 and 1980) don't look any finer. This 1958 transfer is that good!
The sound is decent mono (there is also an unusual 3 channel fake stereo version if you want to try it, it sounds good), and decent extras, including an interview with George Lucas, who was of course influenced by this film when he made Star Wars.
Do not miss this excellent film on this outstanding DVD. Then sample the Kurosawa/Mifune symbiosis in 'High & Low', and 'Seven Samurai' (perhaps in that order). The former's Criterion transfer is excellent, the latter less so, but still good.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Enchanting! - But Home Vision's widescreen still falls short, September 12, 2000
By 
The VHS from Home Vision is supposed to be in widescreen format, yet I do not understand why it is still not in the original aspect ratio of the film.
The picture is "cut off" at the edges - clearly evident in the opening credits where the Japanese names on the left and right are partially covered. Such disregard results in scenes of 'half-bodied' characters on the left and right edges of the frame, especially in many compositions of the two farmers.
The same mis-treatment happened to 'Ran' from Fox Lorber; and I thought Home Vision's productions would be fine as earlier I saw its 'Yojimbo' and found no problems with its widescreen presentation. I hope Home Vision would care to comment.
Despite the flaw, I thoroughly enjoyed the film. It is a finely-judged balance of serious adventure and light-hearted satire at the same time. Kurosawa achieved and sustained the contrasts in the film at several levels, most of which are flashed out through the film's main characters with beguiling effect.
If, somehow, you have been put off by the pessimism and darkness of many of Kurosawa's films, this is the film that would make the difference. By the end of it, it is hard not to have on your face a smile that can come only from a most satisfying and heartwarming experience.
Exciting, entertaining and enchanting, the film actually suprises with its economy and simplicity. It is yet another lesson from the master to other film-makers on how good story-telling alone can carry a film to the height of great entertainment without the indiscriminate resort to special effects and gross sensationalism that Hollywood is so fond of.
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The Hidden Fortress (The Criterion Collection)
The Hidden Fortress (The Criterion Collection) by Akira Kurosawa (DVD - 2001)
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