Monday, August 29, 2016

Akira Kurosawa: 'The Hidden Fortress' (1958)

Akira Kurosawa's 隠し砦の三悪人 / The Hidden Fortress (1958), set in the 1500s during the ferocious clan wars of Japan, combines history and mythic, primal storytelling with strong characters, setup and high stakes. 
Extra fun is seeing the "ur" version of a Sergio Leone film, set in black and white. Take Leone's Il buono, il brutto, il cattivo / The Good, The Bad and the Ugly (1966), for instance, and the central role of gold. Make two of the characters more hapless, and one more ferocious. Add three strong women -- more along the lines of Clint Eastwood's The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976). Make music an important element, and strong visuals. Pepper with playful, dark humor mixed with grim situations, such as becoming prisoner to nasty enemies. Make sure environment is a key element, and a partially obscured endgame. (Or, compare with Star Wars, which was directly inspired by The Hidden Fortress -- but let's not even go there at this juncture.)
Instead, consider the character of Makabe Rokurōta (played by Toshiro Mifune). This fierce dude may be the toughest badass you'll ever see on film. Or Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara), some of the time playing a mute, who must have inspired the Shirley MacLaine role in Don Siegel's Two Mules for Sister Sara (1970).  

The difference between The Hidden Fortress and all of the later films is in intensity -- 16th century Japan must have been a terrifying place in which to live -- an island with no exit. The two idiots (a word well-employed in this film as well as by Sergio Leone in his own films) introduced at the beginning of the movie provide a sort of comic relief, but they also underscore the harsh demeanor and derring-do of the other characters.
The Fire Song (sung twice -- once at the Fire Festival, and once by Yuki)

The life of a man
Burn it with the fire.
The life of a bug
Throw it in the fire.
Ponder and you'll see
The world is dark
And this floating world is a dream.
Burn with abandon!

Today's Rune: Journey. 


Charles Gramlich said...

I've never seen it but I should sure make a point of doing so

the walking man said...

I think The Bare Naked Ladies would take to this film by Kurosawa.