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Film / The Hidden Fortress

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"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 Jidaigeki 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-3PO and was the template for the plot of A New Hope.


This film provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: The two peasants manage to make it through the film in one piece while being chased by soldiers and the like.
  • Artistic License – History: Done deliberately to present a fantasy version of feudal Japan: the Akizuki and Yamana clans existed, but reached their peaks centuries apart.
  • As You Know: Info Dump in the opening scene in conversation between Tahei and Matashichi to let the audience know how they got there:
    Tahei: 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.
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  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Body Double: Kofuyu, Rokurota's unseen sister, went to the Yamana guards claiming to be the princess, knowing she'd be executed for it.
  • 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 wandering down the road together.
  • Cassandra Truth: When Rokurota first tells Tahei and Matashichi who he is, the peasants assume he must be lying, and laugh at Rokurota for trying to trick them.
  • The Cameo: Kurosawa regular Daisuke Kato as a Yamana soldier.
    • Another Kurosawa regular Koji Mitsui as a slave driver forcing captives to dig for the Akizuki gold.
  • Cave Behind the Falls: The princess and her entourage is hiding in a cave behind a waterfall.
  • Cold Ham: Makabe speaks calmly, but his body language is over the top.
  • 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: Tahei and Matashichi are the protagonists in the first part of the film, and play a major part in it. However, the biggest focus is on Rokurota escorting Princess Yuki. Even so, it's the closest thing Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara have to leading roles.
  • Defensive Failure: Two Yamana soldiers confront the heroes, but Rokurota intimidates them so much that they put up no fight as he snatches the spears from their hands and the swords from their belts.
  • Didn't Think This Through: The party tries to use a bonfire festival as cover for why they're carrying large bundles of wood. The people holding the festival end up insisting that they contribute to the bonfire, and in the morning they have to dig the now-melted gold bars out of the ashes.
  • Dirty Cowards: Matashichi and Tahei are a couple of underhanded scoundrels, but they're also intimidated very easily.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: While not the outright villains of the movie, Tahei and Matashichi are amoral scumbags through and through — but they still love each other like brothers.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While not being particularly evil, Tahei and Matashichi are clearly lacking morals. Still, Matashichi refuses to steal the dead warrior's weapons early on. And then he proceeds to go ahead and strip the warrior after Tahei declares, "Do what you want. I'm going home".
  • Exposition Diagram: Tahei draws up a map in the sand to explain his and Matashichi's 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 not rat out her four liberators. Played around with Tahei and Matashichi, who get worse and worse as the film progresses yet are constantly prevented from doing anything truly heinous.
  • Facial Dialogue: A short scene has Tahei and Matashichi giving "You go first!" "No, you!" looks to each other as they hesitate to confront General Makabe.
  • Friendly Enemy: Hyoe Tadokoro.
  • Giggling Anti-Hero: Tahei's laugh is a high-pitched giggle.
  • 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.
  • Heel–Face Turn: Hyoe
  • The Hero: Makabe Rokuruta is one of the moral centers of the film.
  • Heroic BSoD: He doesn't show it in front of the princess, because like her he's too proud to show a vulnerable side, but Rokurota looks clearly disturbed when, thanks to news relayed through Matashichi, he learns that his sister has been executed as part of the plan for him and the princess to escape.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Makabe's sister Kofuyu, and the two elderly servants.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Tahei and Matashichi love each other like brothers despite their bickering and constantly reaffirm and vow their friendship throughout the film.
  • Hollywood Darkness: The climatic night battle scene was clearly shot in day time. Lampshaded by showing a full moon.
  • Hollywood Density: The Akizuki treasure is said to be made up of 200 Kan of gold. A Kan is Japanese unit of measure equal to 3.75 kg (approx. 8.27 lbs.), meaning the whole treasure weights 750 kg (approx. 1,653.47 lbs.) or ¾ of a metric ton. After the wood concealing the gold and the cart are burned, the party has to carry the gold on backpacks, with Rokurota carrying 40 Kan, Tahei and Matashichi carrying 30 Kan each, the two women 20 Kan between them and two captured Yamana soldiers carrying the rest. This means Rokurota was supposed to be carrying 150 kg (330lbs) of gold on his back, Tahei and Matashichi 112.5 kg (248 lbs.) each and the women 37.5 kg (82.6 lbs.) each. None of them should've been able to walk with that kind of load, let alone climb a mountain, but only Tahei, Matashichi and the soldiers are shown to be staggering under the weight at all.
  • Hope Spot: Towards the end, When Rokurota, the princess and the slave girl get sight of their ally's land, only to be captured by enemy forces right after.
  • Hypocrite: Princess Yuki berates Rokurota for being too honorable to publicly show any grief over his sister's death. But, as her lady-in-waiting points out, Yuki doesn't shed any tears herself either—except in private.
  • 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.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: While he and Tahei are utterly incorrigible, Matashichi is right to point out that Rokurota is pretty much bullying them.
  • 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. It's as though Toshiro Mifune finally found a female version of himself.
  • Laughably Evil: Tahei and Matashichi, who are just as funny as the are despicable.
  • Laughing Mad: At the beginning, Tahei bursts into hysterical laughter over how absurd the situation was that made them lose everything.
  • Lighter and Softer: After the heaviness of Kurosawa's previous two films, Throne of Blood and The Lower Depths (1957), he decided to make one that was much more light and fun.
  • 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. They don't stay so lovable after they decide to take advantage of a sleeping Yuki though.
  • Mistreatment-Induced Betrayal: Hyoe is maimed by his lord for losing the Combat by Champion and allowing Makabe to leave after winning. This, combined with kindness from Makabe and Yuki, causes him to switch sides and help them escape captivity with the gold.
  • Mobile Shrubbery: The two peasants in the final battle, evading capture by playing "moving bush".
  • Mr. Fanservice: Toshiro Mifune shows off his strong, muscular legs in shorts.
  • 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.
  • Odessa Steps: A horde of prisoners runs down a staircase to meet the army.
  • Only in It for the Money: Tahei and Matashichi's motivation to join the party is purely driven by greed.
  • Pinball Protagonist: Tahei and Matashichi's role during the first half hour is to get pushed around by fate.
  • Platonic Declaration of Love: Tahei and Matashichi, despite their bickering, frequently declare their platonic love to each other, usually whenever they feel their lives are in danger.
    Tahei: Matashichi? Let's stay friends in Heaven, too.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: Tahei and Matashichi provide levity to a serious situation with their sinful shenanigans.
  • Pose of Supplication: When Tahei and Matashichi finally see the princess in full regalia.
  • Post-Adventure Adventure: The two main protagonists had, before the events of the film, tried to joined the military only to be mistaken for the enemy and put to work digging graves for them, and then escaped from their captivity. We only learn hints of this through their initial conversation.
  • Rebellious Princess: Princess Yuki is a stubborn girl who doesn't listen to anyone and disagrees with everything.
  • 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:
    • The plan to smuggle the princess and the gold to her ally's territory. The border between the recently conquered lands and their allies is heavily guarded, so instead they travel through their enemy's lands to their border with the allies, on the assumption that said border would be less heavily defended.
    • 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.
    • Works successfully when Makabe tries it on Tahei and Matashichi who try to make off with some of the gold.
  • Right Under Their Noses: Sneaking by posing as woodcutters, with gold inside the wood.
  • Samurai: Makabe, Hyoe and bunches of bit players.
  • Say My Name: "Matashichi!" "Tahei!"
  • Screams Like a Little Girl: Both the peasants, but particularly Tahei.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here!: Tahei and Matashichi have a couple of these moments.
  • Secret Test of Character: Rokurota claims that this was the reason why he made Tahei and Matashichi dig in the ground of the hidden fortress when the gold was hidden in the spring all along.
  • Security Cling: Tahei and Matashichi have plenty of "Hold me, I'm scared" 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.
  • Single-Stroke Battle: Notably averted. While most Kurasawa samurai films tend to have fights that only take one or two strikes per opponent, the duel between Hyoe and Rokurota lasts for several minutes.
  • Slave Liberation: After the Yamana force large numbers of peasants and prisoners of war to dig for gold beneath the Akizuki castle, the diggers attack their captors during the night. Tahei and Matashichi fall to the sidelines and sneak away when they notice the fighting has passed them by. It's not shown whether any of the other slaves escaped.
  • Smart Ball: Tahei and Matashichi, though impulsive, weak and stupid, nervously come up with a plan that actually saves their lives on the night they first formally meet.
  • 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. Additionally, the officer Vader chokes name checks the title of this movie.
    • Some of the plot points are also carried over into The Phantom Menace especially the parts about Padmé concealing her identity to throw off the bad guys.
    • It might be one to Northwest Passage, another film where two men are thrown into adventure because one shows an officer a map that he made, although Towne is an educated cartographer while Tahei simply sketched a diagram in the sand.
  • Spiteful Spit: Tahei spits at Matashichi at the beginning of the film, when Matashichi blames him for getting them both into a terrible mess.
  • Supporting Protagonist: It's really Princess Yuki and General Rokurota's story, but told from Tahei and Matashichi's perspective.
  • Tasty Gold: Matashichi 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: Tahei and Matashichi, naturally!
  • Title Drop: "It's what they call a hidden fortress."
  • Token Evil Teammate: The two peasants aren't so much evil as just utterly morally reprehensible, but they make even General Makabe look better.
  • Tomboy Princess: Princess Yuki was an only child raised as a boy by her father. That's why she's so shrill and imperious.
  • Trapped Behind Enemy Lines: In order to avoid a heavily guarded border crossing, our heroes have to venture into the heart of enemy territory.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonists: Tahei and Matashichi are already a couple of spineless, greedy fools. They only become bigger scoundrels as the movie goes on. At their worst, they consider molesting the princess.
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: 90% of the film consists of Tahei and Matashichi arguing with each other.
  • Whip It Good: The princess carries a horse whip.
  • With Friends Like These...: Tahei and Matashichi bicker and fight constantly when they're not swearing eternal friendship to each other.
  • Wrecked Weapon: Rokurota wins the duel by breaking Hyoe's spear in half.
  • You Have Failed Me: Happens offscreen, but Hyoe is mutilated by his overlord.