He is one of the world's most respected directors, but he made more money suing Sergio Leone for making A Fistful of Dollars (1964), an unauthorized re-make of the samurai picture Yojimbo (1961), than he did with any of his highly influential films. From Akira Kurosawa's masterpiece, Seven Samurai (1954), Hollywood derived the classic Western The Magnificent Seven (1960). Perhaps less well-known, however, is the Kurosawa film which helped inspire George Lucas making Star Wars (1977).
The Hidden Fortress (1958) concerns two bickering peasants in Feudal Japan trying to cross enemy lines. In the mountains they find a secret cache of gold, and each man's insatiable greed instantly kicks in. But they also meet a mysterious stranger (Mifune) who knows of the gold, and wants to escort an equally mysterious young woman (Uehara) with the gold from a fortress hidden in the mountains across the same enemy lines.
In some respects, echoes of John Huston's The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948).
True enough, one could easily watch The Hidden Fortress and never notice any connection with Star Wars. Lucky for us, Lucas freely discusses the film's influence, chiefly in the use of the two lowest characters' point of view. But there are other aspects, as well. To compare the character of Hyo with Darth Vader in Return of the Jedi (1983) is to see influences in terms of story events and visual elements.
Even the word "Jedi" itself comes from the Japanese word for historical dramas, "jidaigeki". In fact, Lucas tried to get Toshiro Mifune to play Obi-Wan Kenobi, but Mifune turned down the part because he didn't want to undermine samurai honor with space opera frivolity.
Superlative cinematography, excellent acting, and an engrossing story highlight this film gem regardless of Star Wars. The performance by Minoru Chiaki, the taller of the two peasants, merits particular attention, especially considering how wildly different this character is from Heihachi, the woodchopper, in Seven Samurai.
Freely available online.
THE HIDDEN FORTRESS
Starring Toshiro Mifune,
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Ryuzo Kikushima, Hideo Oguni,
Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa
Runtime 126 minutes
Stewart Kirby writes for