Review of The Hidden Fortress (1958)

Moving picture, 126 minutes

Seen in 2017.

Review refers to the 138 minute version.

Two peasants try to become soldiers of fortune in a 16th-century provincial war, selling their belongings to buy weapons. They arrive too late and are mistaken for losing troops while the greatest stronghold of a gutted clan goes up in flames. Forced to dig graves at the point of spear and gun, far away from home, the pair become the lowest of the low, tainted by the rotting dead. They make a daring escape, and that’s all before the movie even starts.

An adventure halfway between a sword-and-sandal epic and the reality of WW2. Action scenes big and small, composition in depth for the wide screen, practically the full span of the social scale, numerous reversals, jokes, greed and noble sacrifice. 「浮世は夢!」「裏切りごめん!」 It’s got the lens of simplification—behold the map in the sand outlining sashimono to come!—the lens of matinée, but the lens only goes on one eye. The sexism and classism of the genre coexist with the opposite impulses, almost in equal measure, and with a seamlessness that has rarely been repeated.

References here: Star Wars (1977), Story of Science Fiction (2018).

moving picture Japanese production fiction