It’s fitting that a director whose work was so openly influenced by others – Shakespeare and Dashiell Hammett, to name just two – would go on to have a profound impact on future filmmakers. And so it is that Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress partially inspired
George Lucas’ Star Wars – especially the bumbling, bickering companions who headline the story and provided the comic models for robot pals R2-D2 and C-3P0. A triumph on its own terms, the Fortress boasts all of Kurosawa’s signature touches: startling landscapes; sly comedy; vast casts that are expertly choreographed; and stalwart star Toshiro Mifune, who here plays a general in feudal Japan leading a disguised princess (Misa Uehara) and a pair of conniving peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara)
across enemy territory. With its epic setting and visual grace, The Hidden Fortress also is a precursor to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Watching the movie, though, you’ll be struck less by its influence than by an awesome artistry that’s all its own.