With the promise of gold, two hapless peasants unknowingly
help a samurai general escort a fugitive princess across enemy lines.
The Hidden Fortress (1958)
Directed by Akira Kurosawa
Written by Ryûzô Kikushima, Hideo Oguni,
Shinobu Hashimoto, Akira Kurosawa
Starring Toshirô Mifune, Minoru Chiaki,
Kamatari Fujiwara, Misa Uehara, Susumu Fujita
In the 1950's, American cinema was severely limited by the Hays Code. As a result, nearly every film that came out of Hollywood had no bad language, no nudity, no suggestive violence, and no interracial or homosexual relationships. I only point this out because in The Hidden Fortress, a Japanese film from the same era, you have bloody murder and characters openly calling each other "shithead." While we were forcing the child locks on, Japan and other countries were taking off their seatbelts and experimenting. Akira Kurosawa was one of the pioneers of this wave of foreign cinema, and The Hidden Fortress is a solid effort.
We mainly follow two hapless, greedy peasants named Tahei (Chiaki) and Matashichi (Fujiwara). They've barely managed to escape the enemy and stumble onto gold hidden in the mountains. But someone stumbles onto them as well. A samurai general named Rokurota Makabe (Mifune), who recruits these two idiots to help him escort the secret princess (Uehara) across enemy lines and into friendly territory. The gold belongs to her family and she plans to use it to strengthen her position. What follows is an exciting romp across the countryside of feudal Japan, complete with gorgeous cinematography, impressive choreography, and a solid, effective ending.
The Hidden Fortress isn't often listed among Kurosawa's most notable work, but that's only because he's responsible for some of the most celebrated films of all time. Sometimes the lesser known stuff gets lost in the mix. I haven't seen a lot of his work, so I can't speak for Seven Samurai or Yojimbo (yet), but The Hidden Fortress is a great action adventure that is responsible for influencing countless movies after it, most notably the original Star Wars, and it still holds up today