The thing that surprised me the most of about The Hidden Fortress is how silly it is most of the time. You expect certain things from film makers but the best defy those expectations and surprise you. Kurosawa certainly surprises with this meandering film but I am not sure I am surprised in the way I wanted to be.
George Lucas has cited this film as a major influence for him while he was making Star Wars. One can see a great deal of similarities between these films. The first and foremost is how two goofball/looser characters are placed in the lead and tell the story from their point of view. While not as sympathetic as R2D2 and C3PO, his losers are still somewhat lovable.
The story is most often told from Tahei and Matakichiís vantage and we are introduced to the characters through them. This is another identifying characteristic of The Hidden Fortress, identities are slowly formed or maybe more accurate described as layers of identity being pulled away. This is the part of the film I found the most interesting. The question of who people truly are is explored repeatedly through The Hidden Fortress. Even the title place is not a significant part of the story. Instead it seems to imply the hidden identities of those around us.
Still, throughout, there is a very silly angle to everything in this film. The Hidden Fortress feels like a bit of a screwball comedy. Also, there are some disappointing aspects. The performances are wooden and blatant and the costumes look like something out of a Gilbert and Sullivan opera. The translation is choppy, giving the dialogue a stilted feel. Unfortunately this takes away from Kurosawaís storytelling.
The Hidden Fortress is a road movie and the strength of it comes from the way Kurosawa builds and rebuilds his characters. The story really wanders from one place to the next (like the characters) and isnít very memorable. The actions sequences donít really even begin until more than half way through the picture. Instead, what sticks with us are the personas.
This will not be one of my favourite of his works, but The Hidden Fortress does provide good laughs and is entertaining enough to propel you through the story. I donít put this in the masterpiece category it is often vaulted to but I do appreciate the work he does with characterization.