“The Hidden Fortress” takes place in a war-ravaged feudal Japan. Two peasants, Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matakishi (Kamatari Fujiwara) have escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp and are heading home when they encounter General Rokurota Makabe (Toshiro Mifune). The General tells the men he knows where a large amount of gold can be found, and enlists their help transporting Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara) to safety. With Yuki disguised as a mute farming girl and the gold hidden in bundles of sticks, the small group travels the countryside avoiding enemy soldiers except when the General is forced to take action.
Director Akira Kurosawa’s primary inspiration is American films, particularly those of John Ford. “The Hidden Fortress” is different from many of the director’s films in that it is as much a comedy as an adventure movie. The story is told from the point of view of secondary characters. Tahei and Matakishi are bumbling and greedy and provide lots of the humor. According to George Lucas, these characters were the inspiration for C3PO and R2D2 in “Star Wars.”
Bonus features on the 2-disc Dual-Format Blu-ray/DVD edition include audio commentary, a 2003 making-of documentary, a 2001 interview with George Lucas about Kurosawa, and a booklet featuring a critical essay. The film is in Japanese, with English subtitles. The Criterion Collection releases continue to be the most elegantly packaged with the best quality pictures, particularly of older films.