***½/**** Image A Sound B Extras A
starring Toshiro Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Susumu Fujita
screenplay by Ryuzo Kikushima, Hideo Oguni, Shinobu Hashimoto and Akira Kurosawa
directed by Akira Kurosawa
by Walter Chaw It is many things, but Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress is rare for its ability to evoke a feeling ineffable of finding yourself in the company of betters and wanting desperately/doing your best to fit in. It's a weightless feeling. There's euphoria in it. Fear, too, the understanding that being a cool kid is a temporary state, at least for you. And then there's the nagging embarrassment for the friend along for the ride, what that friend says about your unworthiness, and how sick it makes you that you could feel this way about your only real ally in this whole mess. It's two movies, then: the stylized slapstick of opportunistic peasants Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara); and a more standard jidaigeki involving a princess in exile (Misa Uehara) and her bodyguard/retainer General Makabe (Toshiro Mifune) trying to transport a fortune in gold to re-establish their fallen kingdom. The Hidden Fortress would work without the peasants, but it would be a different movie. It would be about heroes like The Seven Samurai, or royalty like Throne of Blood. With the peasants, The Hidden Fortress is about being ordinary in a world inhabited by heroes and royalty, and the existential suffering attendant to that state. The best of Kurosawa is eternally skating along that divide; Kurosawa's own suicide attempt, I think, had more than a little to do with a Kierkegaardian fear and self-loathing. His best--films like Ikiru, Throne of Blood, High and Low--are distinctly revealing. It's a measure of an artist that his reflection in his art is helpless to intention or style. Hitchcock's films lay Hitchcock bare, as Mann's, Vidor's, Lang's, and Welles's do them. Kurosawa feared his worthiness; he feared being judged and found wanting.