The Hidden Fortress

I have been putting off watching The Hidden Fortress for years.  I’ve always read about how it influenced all of George Lucas’ work on Star Wars, mainly ANH, yet I couldn’t bring myself to watch it.

But finally this weekend, I sat down with my husband to watch the movie.  Mr. Reticent asked if I watched the movie purely because of it’s Star Wars connections and I said, “Yes, of course, why else would I watch it?”  😉

The movie was released in 1958 and is directed by Akira Kurosawa, whom Lucas has referenced many times as a director he much admires.  The plot of the movie consists of two greedy peasants (Tahei and Matashichi) who stumble upon some branches littered on the ground that contain hidden gold of the Akizuki Clan inside.  They are found out immediately by the general of the Akizuki Clan (Rokurota Makabe), who is currently in hiding with the Princess Yuki and a few servants.  The area where they are hidden is “the Hidden Fortress”, nestled under the mountains in enemy country.  The Akizuki general takes the two peasants along with him and the Princess on a journey to try to make it back to their own country, promising them gold if they make it.

hidden fortress

I scrutinized the movie.  I watched every scene with the lens of seeing how it relates back to Star Wars and yes, there were a lot of similarities.  Some of the scenes seem even ripped right out of The Hidden Fortress.  Here’s what I found:

  1. Threepio and Artoo are definitely based off of Tahei and Matashichi. One of the peasants is tall (I think Tahei), one is short.  The entire movie follows them, much like ANH follows Threepio and Artoo…something hailed asthehiddenfortress so distinctive aboutANH had actually been drawn strongly from Hidden Fortress.  It wasn’t just this broad plot point, but minor ones as well.
    1. In the beginning, both Tahei and Matashichi get in a fight and separate. Matashichi ends up getting captured in a village once more and reunites with Tahei where they both think they are going to die.  Artoo gets captured by Jawas, meets up with Threepio where he notes that “we’re doomed.”
  2. GeneralRokurota is almost a blend, I thought, between Obi-Wan and Han Solo. I’m not sure there really was a Luke character in Hidden Fortress.
    1. There is one scene where they are transporting the hidden gold/branches in front of the enemies eyes General_Rokurotaand it screamed of when Obi-Wan is taking the droids into Mos Eisley with his famous, “These are not the droids you’re looking for.”
    2. Another similar scene is when Rokurota is chasing after the enemy on horseback to protect the Princess and the Peasants and he runs straight into the enemy camp, completely surrounded. Sure looked a lot like when Solo chases all the stormtroopers in the Death Star.
    3. Though I don’t think Rokurota was a Luke Skywalker, there is a scene where the band of travelers turns to go back to their hidden fortress, only to see it go up and smoke. It reminded me of Luke racing back home, only to find it burned and charred.
  3. Princess Yuki, of course, draws similarities to Leia. Actually, what I thought was most interesting was how Yuki dressed in boy’s clothes, something that is commented on a few times.  It reminded me of the first drafts of Starprincess yuki Wars where Lucas originally had Leia as a tomboy with only one male in the script.
    1. You can tell Princess Yuki kicks butt and she speaks her mind quite freely. There is a reward out for her, but it’s different than what we see in ANH.  In Fortress, the reward would be given out by the enemy in return for information or the capture of her, something we see the Peasants try to make use of.
    2. About half way through the movie, we find out that one of Princess Yuki’s handmaidens posed as the Princess and was beheaded on her account. The decoy aspect reminded me strongly of TPM and AOTC.
  4. Some scenes were comparable to the way Lucas filmed his own movie.
    1. There were a lot of screen wipes, which funnily enough, I didn’t even really notice when I was watching until my husband mentioned it. Maybe I’ve watched Star Wars so much that I now believe it’s normal to see that in film, haha.
    2. There’s a scene where Rokurota battles an enemy general with spears. The pacing and style of it was so alike to Vader and Obi-Wan battling with lightsabers in ANH.  It would be slow and almost like nothing was going to happen, but then a flurry of action would take place, then back off again, then a quick fight, etc.  The battle in The Hidden Fortress was a lot longer though.
    3. The horseback riding scene, where Rokurota chases enemies into their camp and gets surrounded, is reminiscent of the trench run in ANH or the speeder bike chase in ROTJ in the way that the shots are filmed.

 

Okay, I won’t bore you guys anymore with this.  There were many similarities, more so than I expected, but there were also differences with the largest being that the peasants Tahei and Matashichi are very greedy and their greed motivates all their actions.  So, yes, both Star Wars and The Hidden Fortress follows “minor” characters and don’t introduce the heroes until 25% of the way into the movie, but the similarities kind of stop there.

Would I recommend The Hidden Fortress?  I’m not sure.  As someone who has grown up with a different type of movie styles and standards, I don’t think I would have watched it had I not been a Star Wars fan.

Would I recommend The Hidden Fortress to movie buffs?  Definitely.  Anyone who loves movies should watch this and add it to their repertoire.

Would I recommend The Hidden Fortress to other Star Wars fans?  I would say it’s not needed.  I found plenty of YouTube videos while writing this that showed the similarities of the movies on a basic level.  Read the plot online, watch the clips, and you’re good!  Unless you’re a movie buff as well, then maybe you should watch it.

Here is one of the videos I found while writing this:

Here’s an interesting article from starwars.com if you are interested on reading more about Lucas and Kurosawa.  This one talks about the influences on Lucas’ shots.

And guess what?  TOMORROW IS FRIDAY!  It’s been a long week and I’m ready for the weekend.

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6 thoughts on “The Hidden Fortress

  1. I’ve watched a few of Kurosawa’s films because of my film major – Dreams and Rashoman. Both are interesting. Not my favorite, but definitely make you think.
    The big thing about Kurosawa is he was making epic films with deeper meaning in the 50’s when many were just making cheesy B-movies. It’s something different, makes you think.
    Another note, Kurosawa directed the Seven Samurai, which is what the Magnificent Seven is based on, which is what A Bug’s Life is based on.

    • I have heard a lot about Seven Samurai and Magnificent Seven. I actually rented Magnificent Seven once (back when you still rented movies) but I had to return it and never got around to watching it. I have seen A Bug’s Life though! Just don’t remember it. So it seems like Kurosawa is quite influential in the film world.

      There are other pages devoted to other movies of Kurosawa that influenced Lucas and ANH, but The Hidden Fortress has the biggest influences from what I’ve read. I’m glad I watched it! Just won’t watch it again.

  2. I’m ashamed to say I’ve never seen any Kurosawa movies, and I’m kinda a Japanophile too! Thanks for the great rundown similarities. Where did you find the move? Did you rent it?

    • I thought that you of all of my followers would have seen it! I think you should definitely put it on your list and watch it at some point. Just to obsessively look for SW references like I did. There was one scene where the two peasants were arguing and it was almost exactly like Artoo and Threepio when they land on Tatooine. It was almost unnerving how similar it was.

      I got the movie from the library. An awesome resource around here 🙂

      • Ah, the library! Great idea! And if my public library doesn’t have it, I work at a university, so I can get things from any university in Ohio through interlibrary loan. Which is pretty sweet.

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