After years of sitting on my bony duff, picking my nose and not watching Akira Kurosawa‘s The Hidden Fortress I decided it was high time I finally watched Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress whilst continuing to sit on my aforementioned bony duff with my finger still firmly jammed three knuckles deep into what over the years has become my favorite picking nostril, the right one. Why is this something that I make it sound like should have happened a long time ago? Two reasons:
1) Kurosawa is supposed to be some big shot, cracker jack, A-1 director whose work I’m a bit embarrassed about not being at all familiar with aside from that one time I sat through most of Seven Samurai‘s 14 hours, only to fall asleep in the last ten minutes, therefore missing what the big deal about “Rosebud” was*
2) George Lucas cites it as a bit of an influence. Not so much on Howard the Duck, but kinda-sorta on Star Wars
Truth be told it took me two tries to watch the movie, though not at all because I didn’t like it. I really, really enjoyed it, but the first time I was bogged down by being a bit too tired and a bit too hung up on the Star Wars connection. Plus I fell asleep like halfway through it. But the second time, man, the second time I made it start to finish, just like a big boy! Score one for bucking the trend of a society whose attention span can hardly sustain it through an iPod commercial, nevermind a two and a half hour, black and white Japanese period piece from fifty years ago!
Anyway! The movie was surprisingly funny. As I said, I really don’t know anything about Kurosawa aside from his reputation and that one time I saw (almost all of) Seven Samurai. While I do remember some occasional lighter moments from Seven Samurai, the peasants were quite funny at the fittingly unfitted participants of two warring, medieval Japanese clans. It was also a wonderful film visually and having seen it I can now identify its influence on Star Wars first hand as opposed to taking the internet’s word for it. It also needs to be said that Toshiro Mifune‘s spear duel was pretty badass, especially given how goofy spears are when compared to samurai swords.
So how about the Star Wars connections? They’re everywhere. I already mentioned that visually Lucas lifted some neato tricks from it–a lot of far away shots of characters with their surroundings in full view then bringing it up close while things happen around them. A lot of those shots made me think of the droids’ arrival on Tatooine, particularly Artoo making his way through the canyon and Threepio waving down the Sandcrawler, which is hardly a coincidence since the droids are very much based off of the peasants Tahei and Matashichi. In a featurette on the DVD, Lucas discusses how he liked the the way Kurosawa showed the story of a war through the eyes of the two lowest characters on the totem pole, an explanation towards the prominent roles he gave the droids play in the Saga.
There are various other references, namely a princess trying to get through enemy lines with something important while being aided by an older general. In Hidden Fortress the princess and a samurai are trying to smuggle gold over the border to rebuild her clan. You can probably figure out where to swap in Jedi, Death Star plans and aid a rebellion for freedom in that sentence.
Above all else, the most obvious element Lucas borrowed here is the scene fade. Anyone familiar with Star Wars can see it right away. The first time a scene changed with the assistance of a slow moving, right to left fade I totally LOL’d. By the tenth time I was at least thankful that, over the course of six movies, George decided to mix it up and go left to right, top to bottom and occasional rock the diagonal.
So yes, better late than never on this one. As I said, I really liked it, but to be honest there’s probably nothing I can really say about it that a lot of other people haven’t already said a lot better than I can. As a raging fanboy it was particularly awesome to watch, to sort of see what George Lucas was seeing while Star Wars was still in it’s infancy.
*I’m totally kidding