Hidden Fortress: Criterion Collection #116
Hidden Fortress, originally titled "Kakushi toride no san akunin" and released in 1958, was directed by Akira Kurosawa, who also directed Seven Samurai and Ikiru. The film marks Kurosawa's first foray into widescreen and stars Toshirô Mifune (General Rokurota Makabe), Minoru Chiaki (Tahei), Kamatari Fujiwara (Matakishi), Susumu Fujita (General Hyoe Tadokoro), and Misa Uehara (Princess Yuki).
Tahei and Matakishi, two bumbling and conniving peasants, arrive late for the war in Akizuki and are subsequently forced to bury the dead. Upon escaping, they realize that they can't return to Hayakawa as the border between the two is heavily guarded. Yamana had defeated Akizuki in the war, but they have yet to find Princess Yuki or the gold her clan possessed. Eager to find her, Yamana offers a reward of 10 gold pieces to anyone who captures her. Tahei and Matakishi decide that their easiest way home is through Yamana, and on the way, they'll look for the princess. But before they can begin their journey, Rokurota approaches them. Intrigued by their idea of going through Yamana, he asks for their help in smuggling 200 pieces of gold into Hayakawa. They accept, with their own plans for the gold. He takes them back to the hidden fortress where they retrieve the gold and begin their journey, accompanied by a mute girl. Unbeknownst to them, the girl is the princess and Rokurota is her legendary samurai general. The four of them must go behind enemy lines, evade capture, and make it safely into Hayakawa.
Hidden Fortress has always been one of those films that I've wanted to see, but could never find…until now. Thanks to Criterion, Hidden Fortress has finally made its way to DVD. Quite often known as the film that influenced the idea for Star Wars, I was surprised at how few similarities between the two there really are. Sure, there's a princess and two comic relief sidekicks in both, but really, they're quite different…and that's a good thing. I really enjoyed Hidden Fortress: it's a terrific film from start to finish with top-notch performances and a story that is never dull and always entertaining.
Hidden Fortress is presented in the original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. The black and white film has been digitally restored with terrific results; in short, it's quite breathtaking, especially when you consider the film's age. Very few flaws appear throughout; there are a few lines and some specks and marks, but none of this is too distracting. Contrast is excellent throughout, with terrific detail.
Hidden Fortress was originally filmed in Perspect-a-Sound, which is a mono soundtrack with three different bass frequencies. This mono track was then played through a Perspecta decoder, which creates a pseudo stereo soundtrack. The DVD has the option of watching the film with either the Dolby Mono 1.0 track with all the bass frequencies in one channel or a Dolby Digital 3.0 track, with the bass frequencies separated. The later recreates the original Perspect-a-Sound experience. Both of the tracks are in Japanese with optional English subtitles. I found the 3.0 track to definitely be the better of the two, as it sounds much more natural and dynamic. Dialogue throughout both is clean, with only a small amount of hiss present.
Extras include an informative essay by Armond White inside the booklet, the famous color bars, the film's trailer, and an eight-minute interview with George Lucas titled "Lucas on Kurosawa." Lucas talks mostly about Kurosawa's influence on him and other filmmakers; the interview is not exclusively about Hidden Fortress. Lucas does reveal that Hidden Fortress's main influence on Star Wars was that both are told from the perspective of the two lowest characters in the film; the princess, he argues, is coincidental. The interview was recorded in January of 2001 and is exclusive to this DVD.
Criterion has done a terrific job with Hidden Fortress that is sure to please the film's many fans: both the transfer and soundtracks have been wonderfully restored. The film itself is incredible and those not familiar with it will find that it is most definitely worth a look. Highly Recommended!