The Hidden Fortress
"Seven Samurai," "High and Low," "Rashomon," "Yojimbo." The list goes on and on. Master Japanese Director Akira Kurosawa helped to define cinematic storytelling in the 20th century, making artful use of compositions, narrative, and every other function of the cinematic form. Most recently, that accomplishment has been canonized by the Criterion Collection, who’s been rereleasing his films, one-by-one, onto Blu-ray. The latest to receive the high-def treatment is "The Hidden Fortress," the master director’s first filmed lensed in widescreen. It may not be his best picture, but the adventure yarn -- which tracks two peasants carrying a beautiful princess across a war-torn land to safety -- may be his most entertaining.
Let’s deal with the elephant in the room up front: yes, "The Hidden Fortress" is most often cited as the film that provided George Lucas with inspiration for "Star Wars." Yes, there are numerous similarities in the plots, yes, right down to "Hidden Fortress" featuring two sidekick characters that are clear analogues for R2-D2 and C3PO. And yes, this Criterion release even features an interview with Lucas -- running about ten minutes -- where he expounds on the influence that the film, and Kurosawa’s visual style, had on his work.
This Dual-Format rerelease adds a number of new special features, though, in addition to the talk with the "Star Wars" creator. We have a requisite trailer, and also a commentary with film scholar Steven Prince, who spends much of his time deconstructing Kurosawa’s visual style, and the effect it had on -- and influence it takes from -- genre movies. The final extra is by far the most worthwhile, however: Criterion’s releases of Kurosawa films often come packaged with clips sourced from the Japanese long-form documentary "Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create," and this latest release is no different. The disc features 40 minutes from that program dedicated to "Hidden Fortress," tracking everything from the influence of John Ford on the picture to the way Kurosawa employs horses in his frames. It connects the film to the western adventures that came prior to and after its release, and in doing so, reveals "Fortress" to be among the most influential works created by one of our most influential filmmakers -- regardless of its connection to a galaxy far, far away.
"The Hidden Fortress"
Blu-ray/DVD Dual Format Release