Monday, December 12, 2016

Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress: Thoughts on my First Viewing

I first saw Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress (1958) on Bravo before its lamentable turn to particularly disgusting versions of the reality show format.

I have to admit that I was a bit thrown by that first viewing--and even a bit let down.

One of the reasons I watched it--the first Kurosawa film I saw--was that I had heard about The Hidden Fortress being a basis (the basis?) for Star Wars.

I suppose I expected Star Wars with horses and katana instead of spaceships and light sabers.

But it wasn't that.

We get C-3PO and R-2D2, Leia and Obi-Wan, and even a Darth Vader--redemption and all. But we don't get a Luke--so, no hero's journey.

There are good guys and bad guys--but no epic, cosmic, "universal" battle of good and evil. We have instead a smaller-scale, local conflict between two clans that is deeply rooted in the feudal culture with which we are presented, with its particular ethos and loyalties.

I might add that while there are some fights, it's not really an action movie. Aside from the fact that people just weren't making action movies as we know them back then (that awaited the Bond films in the '60s), the film skews comedic, at times rather darkly comic--just as you'd expect if Lucas decided to put the droids and their misadventures at the center of his film, and also made them a couple of idiot backstabbing freebooters who don't think twice about doing things they would never put in something advertised on the Disney Channel.

It is all a reminder not just of how much Lucas owed Kurosawa, but also how much he owed his numerous other inspirations--to Joseph Campbell, to a long tradition of pulp space opera, to the adrenaline-oriented structure of the James Bond films that he seems to have figured out and indeed mastered and improved upon before anyone else in Hollywood managed to wrap their minds around it (an achievement many seem to intuit, but rarely spell out clearly), among much, much else.

After realizing that, I took another look at this movie--taking it on its own terms, rather than as a prototype for a very different film, and enjoyed it for the work of art that it is.

Just Out . . . (Star Wars in Context, paperback edition)
Just Out . . . (Star Wars in Context)
Just Out . . . (The Many Lives and Deaths of James Bond, 2nd edition)
Just Out. . . (James Bond's Evolution)
Just Out . . . (The Forgotten James Bond)
My Posts on Star Wars
My Posts on James Bond

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