Film Follies, Subtitle Subversive

Subtitle Subversive- The Hidden Fortress

To wrap up our tribute to the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens we take a look at the film that perhaps had the greatest influence on George Lucas when he was penning the original trilogy: Akira Kurosawa’s classic The Hidden Fortress.
Released in 1957, The Hidden Fortress is another team up of famed samurai movie duo Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. It settles into place between Throne of Blood and Yojimbo on their joint filmography which is appropriate as this film is less of a sweeping epic than the former and less of a samurai film than the later. In fact, The Hidden Fortress, while keeping up many of the themes and motifs of Kurosawa’s other works, is really quite unique in that it seems to find a middle ground between action and drama rather than lean into one or the other. The result is an unapologetic adventure film that keeps the plot moving forward at a brisk pace.
The story follows two peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, in the aftermath of a war between the Yamana and Akizuki clans. The Yamana clan has claimed victory and is now searching for the famed Akizuki gold reserves. The two peasants are captured and taken to the Akizuki castle as part of a slave gang digging for the gold. There is a slave uprising and Tahei and Matashichi escape. Near a river they stumble upon some fake wood containing Akizuki gold. In deciding how best to take the gold for themselves they encounter the general of the defeated Akizuki clan, Makabe Rokurōta (Toshiro Mifune) who is in disguise and plotting how to escort Princess Yuki Akizuki (Misa Uehara) and what remains of her family’s gold to friendly territory. Liking the peasants plan, Makabe conscripts their help in his mission. Blinded by greed the peasants go along with the plan. That set up basically leads to the equivalent of a trapped behind enemy lines road movie.
So how does this tie into Star Wars you ask? Well Lucas very much enjoyed the concept of telling such a sweeping story through the eyes of two such lowly and overlooked characters thus those two bickering peasants became the inspiration for our two favorite droids R2-D2 and C-3P0. And the plot device of having a famous warrior general in humble disguise giving aid to a princess gave birth to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Princess Leia though clearly their relationship to each other changed over the course of several drafts.
The Hidden Fortress is a fantastic film in its own right, as proven by its inclusion in the Criterion Collection, but it falls short of some of Kurosawa’s other masterpieces (Yojimbo, Seven Samurai, Ran, Rashomon… Dude set the bar pretty high for himself). Perhaps its most lasting contribution to cinema is its effect on George Lucas and its role in shaping Star Wars into the saga we know today.

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