Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Hidden Fortress


Dir: Akira Kurosawa (The Lower Depths; The Bad Sleep Well; Kagemusha; Ikiru; Red Beard; High and Low)

AK, the master of exploring universal psychological themes, turns in yet another masterpiece in this bittersweet tale of greed and duty. While everyone knows about Lucas' statement that Hidden Fortress inspired Star Wars, the real comparison is to Treasure of the Sierra Madre, where the lust for gold compels men to betray each other and do the most abhorent things.

Lucas was referring to the perspectival elements of this film, how the story is told from two of lower characters' point of view. A couple of shifty and cowardly con artists, the pair stumble upon some hidden gold and a warrior (ah, Toshiro Mifune) who is keen to keep the treasure for the exiled princess who is in his protection. The four set out to transport the riches to safe territory.

What is so compelling about the film is the blend of comedy and penetrating insight. AK has a way of taking stock characters and turning up the volume on their characteristics so that we recognize the archetypal nature of their actions. And yet, nothing feels forced or contrived. The script is both idiosyncratic and universal, a talent that it is hard to describe but very easy to recognize in this film. It is, for example, far more approachable than Madre, which takes the same theme of greed and puts a much more pessimistic gloss on it. It is a change of mood against the typical, highly dramatic treatment of this subject matter from a director who specializes in inhabiting genuine, recognizable emotional states.

Like his other films, I find that uplifiting element very agreeable. There is something life affirming in Hidden Fortress, even at the point that AK crushes our foibles and ridicules our selfish tendencies. The film is profund, and rests in the grey areas of human motivations.

A stunning and extraordinarily entertaining work of art. In the conversation of the man's best films.