Film: The Hidden Fortress

"The part that was the most interesting in Hidden Fortress was that it was told from the point of view of the farmers, and not from the point of view of the princess. I liked that idea."

Kakushi Toride no San Akunin (approximately "Three Bad Men of the Hidden Fortress") was Akira Kurosawa's first widescreen film. The film is a Jidai Geki with an interesting twist: rather than concentrating on The Hero, the film instead focuses on a pair of bickering peasants, with none of the other major characters putting in an appearance until twenty minutes or so in. Once the audience's sympathies have been firmly attached to the peasants, the Hero, the Rebellious Princess, and the rest of the film's major characters begin to show up. From then on, it's a series of hairbreadth escapes as the protagonists have to travel through enemy territory to reach safety.

This film is best known in the West for the idea of focusing on the peasants at first; this storytelling tool provided the inspiration for two droids named R2-D2 and C-3P0.


This film provides examples of:

  • As You Know: Info Dump in the opening scene in conversation between Tahei and Matashichi to let the audience know, how they got there:
    "First, we arrived late to the war. Then they mistook us for the defeated side and forced us to bury the dead. We finally escaped, and now it's been two days that we've only had water."
  • Attempted Rape: Kinda disturbing since Tahei and Matashichi regularly make passes at 16-year-old Princess Yuki and even draw straws while she's asleep to see who will "have some fun". It's played for laughs.
  • Authority Equals Asskicking: Justified with Hyoe Tadokoro, who certainly moved up to his high rank thanks to his superb fighting skills.
  • Automaton Horses: Actually the horses are treated respectfully, with the exception of the scene where Makabe jumps on a totally random horse and chases down some enemies without using the reins. But then, he's just that good.
  • Badass: Makabe Rokurota - no surprise here, as he is played by Toshiro Mifune.
  • Behind the Black: Half way through the movie, after another attempt by Tahei and Matashichi to get away with the gold, they return to the spot where they left off Princess Yuki. They don't see anybody until they turn their look to the side and notice the princess and Rokurota standing by the rock face. They should have seen them all along.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Princess Yuki, though hers are no match for those of Makabe Rokuruta as played by Toshiro Mifune.
  • Blade Lock: Several, during the spear fight between Rokurota and Hyoe.
  • Blade on a Stick: A really nifty duel with these.
  • Blood from the Mouth: The dying warrior early on shows this.
  • Bodyguard Crush: Somewhat implied between the princess and Rokurota, though it's not clear who likes who. Not helped by Rokurota pretending that she's his woman.
  • Bookends: The movie starts and ends with a shot of Tahei and Matashichi arguing with each other.
  • Cave Behind the Falls: The princess and her entourage is hiding in a cave behind a waterfall.
  • Colour-Coded for Your Convenience: The flags of the evil cavalry are black, the flags of the friendly forces are white.
  • Combat by Champion: Nobody interferes in the duel between Makabe and Hyoe, even to letting the victor ride off unharmed.
  • Crowd Song: At the fire festival, the huge crowds of celebrants are dancing with well-choreographed moves. Subverted, though, as the crowd has obviously practiced, and when our heroes join in, they're horribly out of step.
  • Cruel Mercy: After being defeated in duel, Hyoe demands to be killed by Rokurota but the latter decides to spare his life, much to Hyoe's dislike.
  • Decoy Getaway: Rokurota's sister was used as a Body Double for the princess and gets killed by the enemy. The princess is outraged when she hears of it and sheds some Tears of Remorse.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Toshiro Mifune gets top billing but technically his character is just the Supporting Protagonist. The real focus are the two greedy peasants.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While not being particularly evil, Tahei and Matashichi are clearly lacking morals. Still one of them refuses to steal the dead warrior's weapons early on.
  • Exposition Diagram: One of the peasants draws up a map in the sand to explain their plan how to cross borders to Hayakawa.
  • Face-Heel Turn: Averted with the farm girl, who after learning about the award of 10 gold pieces, decides to no rat out her four liberators. On more than one level she represents the opposite of what Tahei and Matashichi stand for.
  • Friendly Enemy: Hyoe Tadokoro.
  • Give Me a Sword: Makabe snatches spears from random soldiers until he finds a satisfactory one before fighting Hyoe.
  • Gray Rain of Depression: The low point on the journey comes during a rainstorm.
  • Happiness in Slavery: The farm girl that they buy off a pimp eventually becomes extremely protective of Princess Yuki.
  • The Hero: Makabe Rokuruta, despite the peasants being the central characters.
  • Heel-Face Turn: Hyoe
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Makabe's sister Kofuyu, and the two elderly servants.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Tahei and Matashichi.
  • Hollywood Darkness: The climatic night battle scene was clearly shot in day time. Lampshaded by showing a full moon.
  • Hollywood Density: A point is made about how heavy gold is, and the characters are staggering under the weight. But based on the volumes of their packs, they should be carrying between two and three tons of the stuff each.
  • Hope Spot: Towards the end, Wwen Rokurota, the princess and the slave girl get sight of their homeland land, only to be captured by enemy forces right after.
  • I Am Spartacus: Happens twice to protect the princess. Once with Kofuyu who dies, and again with the farm girl who lives.
  • Idiosyncratic Wipes: A horizontal screen wipe is used for a couple of scene transitions.
  • I Will Only Slow You Down: The slave girl, who gets wounded during battle, requests to be left behind, which Rokurota refuses to accept.
  • Kabuki Sounds: The score combines these with western-style film music.
  • King Incognito: Well, princess incognito.
  • Large Ham: Princess Yuki, whose dialog comes in one flavor: ANGRY.
  • Live-Action Escort Mission / MacGuffin Escort Mission: The plot is about taking Princess Yuki and the gold from Akizuki via Yamana to Hayakawa.
  • Lovable Traitor: The peasants will run for it at the first sign of danger, taking whatever gold they can manage, but still manage to redeem themselves.
  • Mobile Shrubbery: The two peasants in the final battle, evading capture by playing "moving bush".
  • No Honor Among Thieves: Tahei and Matashichi attempt to sell one another out. Then they attempt to sell out their protector. Then they attempt to sell out the princess. And at the end they are rewarded for it.
  • No Indoor Voice: Princess Yuki, who manages to pull it off while avoiding Narm.
  • Not Afraid to Die: Princess Yuki becomes this towards the end, due to having an epiphany at the fire festival.
  • Nuclear Candle: When Tahei and Matashichi settle down for the first night, their tiny camp fire illuminate the entire area.
  • Only in It for the Money: Tahei and Matashichi's motivation to join the party is purely driven by greed.
  • Pinball Protagonist
  • Pose of Supplication: When Tahei and Matashichi finally see the princess in full regalia.
  • Rebellious Princess: Princess Yuki. She like hitting people with a stick.
  • Red Shirts: The two mooks that Rokurota takes hostage and who later try to flee in the night and get killed by friendly fire.
  • Refuge in Audacity: How does Rokurota get the gold concealed in the firewood past the checkpoint? By marching straight up to it and showing the samurai on guard one of the pieces of gold which he claimed to have found on the mountain - then he makes a fuss about getting them to give it back to him to distract the guards while the others hustle through with the rest of it.
  • Reverse Psychology: Makabe tries this on the Princess. She catches on, but goes along with it anyway.
  • Right Under Their Noses: Sneaking by posing as woodcutters, with gold inside the wood.
  • Samurai
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Tahei and Matashichi have a couple of these moments.
  • Shout-Out: When the horde of prisoners run down the stairs to meet the army. This is a reference to the famous scene on the Odessa stairs in Battleship Potemkin.
  • The Speechless: Invoked. Princess Yuki pretends to be deaf-mute to protect her identity.
  • Spiritual Successor: In interview George Lucas stated that The Hidden Fortress was one of the greatest inspirations for A New Hope. It's a story about a princess and her protectors, told through the eyes of two lesser characters. In Hidden Fortress it is the two thieves; in Star Wars it is C3PO and R2D2. In both films the comical interplay between the two characters is a major theme. Lucas' original draft called for the two droids, the princess and an aging Jedi general as her protector, before eventually turning that to Luke Skywalker.
  • Supporting Protagonist
  • Tasty Gold: One of the two peasants chews on a gold stick to test its authenticity.
  • Tears of Remorse: At one point Princess Yuki runs away and stands on a mountaintop crying her eyes out for her friend's sacrifice, since she's too proud to let anybody see her vulnerable side.
  • Those Two Guys / Vitriolic Best Buds: Tahei and Matashichi, naturally!
  • Title Drop: "It's what they call a hidden fortress."
  • Tomboy Princess: Princess Yuki was an only child raised as a boy by her father. It shows.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: In order to avoid a heavily guarded border crossing, our heroes have to venture into the heart of enemy territory.
  • Whip It Good: The princess carries a horse whip.
  • You Have Failed Me: Happens offscreen, but Hyoe is mutilated by his overlord.