Monday, March 09, 2009

"The Hidden Fortress" (Language - Japanese) (1958) - Movie Review

One of the most slowest and boring film I have seen of Akira Kurosawa is “The Hidden Fortress”. By the time it gets to the center piece of its story we are half asleep. With two most annoying and lifeless characters jumping out of the moral stories in our child hood books, it felt like there is no end. While it is the slowest of my favourite director’s film, it is also one of the most arduous effort put on by the actors and the crew to shoot it. With a continuous trekking on terrains with stones rolling and carrying weights of immense proportion and constantly falling over the rough roads, this would have taken a big toll on the whole crew of this film.

It follows two peasants (Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara) being unpropitious in the nook and corner they turn. They are navigating back to their hometown Hayakawa after they get mistaken as the enemy survivors by their own clan and then making them to bury the dead bodies. Tired and frustrated they travel back. With the soldiers of Yamana one of the three major forces in the area, they are again doubted as the enemies, Akizuki. Down by their luck and driven by greed, they run with their heels hitting their backs to the woods, mountains and rivers.

They see that there is a reward for finding the only remaining heir of the Akizuki Clan Princess Yuki and that makes them dream of getting her and claiming some money they have completely lost in coming to the war they missed. And their luck turns out a little bit to their favour. They find a gold being hidden in one of the stick they picked up for their cooking. They drool and break every stick around the vicinity with vain. Soon they are followed by a strange man from the woods and they are tricked into his schemes. That man turns out to be the General Rokurota Makabe (Toshirô Mifune) the guardian of the young and tom boyish Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara). The rest becomes their journey in crossing the border carrying 200 pieces of gold.

By the time the peasants meet Rokurota which is where the real story happens, it feels like ages have passed. The two peasants are basically greedy to the bone and their friendship toggles between risks and fights they face. Their bond purely is driven through the aggravation towards wealth. Now showing their greed does not require much effort but Kurosawa goes to great pains to show their fundamental character been corrupted. The reason for that looks like he wants to present the entire class of common people into those wherein the Princess gets chance to see it. They whine, cry, moan, scold and are sufficiently cunning to carry out their clandestine operations met with immediate failure followed by their shameless running back to the General for protection. The characters as expected to be annoying gets on your nerves and you do not want to see them anymore.

Now the slimiest character in the element of those are strengthened by General Rokurota Makabe and Princess Yuki. Not because they are valiant and prudent. It is purely due to their calmness (which the Princess is advised to be to escape notice) and not pester us. The adventure gets muddied with the slow movements and the manual labour they undertake brings strain to the audience on carrying that loads by themselves. But the disappointment personally would be the wise man attitude which does not get portrayed well in this film of Kurosawa.

Yet the technicality of the film is matchless. With great shots of wide spread landscape and the cross angled camera views of the steep slopes of the mountains with river of stones are some prime exemplifying techniques Kurosawa regularly does with his films. And the spear fight between the General and his favourite enemy from the opposition General Hyoe Tadokoro (Susumu Fujita) is a spectacular choreography to watch for.

“The Hidden Fortress” is a monumental disaster. It works with actors who have proven their skills in many other ventures of Kurosawa. The letdown is the screenplay which generally is the cornerstone of his films. It becomes an excruciating exercise to watch through the snail paced film which drags itself down and slow till we are completely given up to watch further at all.

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