The Hidden Fortress

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The Hidden Fortress
The Hidden Fortress poster.jpg
Original Japanese poster from 1968 re-release[citation needed]
Directed byAkira Kurosawa
Produced by
Screenplay by
Music byMasaru Sato[1]
CinematographyKazuo Yamasaki[1]
Release date
  • 28 December 1958 (1958-12-28) (Japan)
Running time
139 minutes[2]

The Hidden Fortress (隠し砦の三悪人, Kakushi toride no san akunin, literally, "The Three Villains of the Hidden Fortress") is a 1958 jidaigeki[3] adventure film directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring Toshiro Mifune as General Makabe Rokurōta (真壁 六郎太) and Misa Uehara as Princess Yuki.


Two bedraggled peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, reveal through conversation that they had intended to fight alongside the Yamana clan, but turned up too late, were taken for soldiers of the defeated Akizuki clan, and forced to bury the dead. After quarreling and splitting up, the two are both again captured separately and forced to dig for gold in the Akizuki castle with other prisoners.

After a prisoner uprising, Tahei and Matashichi escape. Near a river they find gold marked with the crescent of the Akizuki clan. The peasants encounter a mysterious man who takes them to a hidden Akizuki fortress after they tell him their plan to evade the Yamana soldiers who are preventing people (and defeated Akizuki clansmen) from crossing the frontier to Hayakawa. Their plan involves traveling to Yamana itself and then passing to Hayakawa through a different border.

The man turns out to be a General of the defeated Akizuki clan, Makabe Rokurōta. Although Rokurōta was planning on killing the peasants, on hearing their plan, he decides to let them live. He realizes that their plan is so ingenious that he decides, without telling them, to use their plan to move the Akizuki Princess Yuki to Hayakawa whose lord is an ally of the Akizuki clan.

While Rokurōta is escorting Princess Yuki Akizuki and what remains of her family's gold to Hayakawa, Matashichi and Tahei don't know the girl traveling with them is the Princess. In order to keep her identity secret, Yuki poses as a mute so that she doesn't inadvertently speak in the usual mode characteristic of a noblewoman.

During the mission, the peasants impede it and sometimes try to seize the gold. They are later joined by a farmer’s daughter, whom they acquire from an inn-keeper.

They avoid being captured on one occasion by Rokurōta killing four soldiers of a Yamana patrol, including two soldiers Rokurōta has to pursue on horseback. However, Rokurōta ends up in a Yamana camp, where the general in charge is Rokurōta's friendly rival Hyoe Tadokoro.

Tadokoro states that he is sorry he didn't face Rokurōta in battle and decides to have a lance duel which Rokurōta wins. Rokurōta refuses to kill Tadokoro. Rokurōta tells Tadokoro they'll meet again and then leaves the camp on horseback to get back to the Princess.

Eventually, they are captured by Yamana soldiers close to a post on the Hayakawa border and held prisoner to be executed. In the confusion, Matashichi and Tahei are able to hide and avoid being taken prisoner. Hyoe Tadokoro comes to identify the prisoners before the soldiers take them to be executed.

Tadokoro shows a large face scar and explains it is a result of a beating ordered by the Yamana lord for losing the duel with Rokurōta. While Tadokoro is meeting them, the Princess gives a speech on how even facing death she has enjoyed the trip and getting to know humanity's ugliness and beauty closely.

The next day as the soldiers start marching the prisoners to be executed, Tadokoro sides with the Princess, Rokurōta and the farmer's daughter. Tadokoro aids and joins them in their escape across the border to Hayakawa. The horses carrying the gold escape.

After the Princess and Rokurōta's escape, Matashichi and Tahei stumble upon the gold which is carried by the horses, but are then arrested by Hayakawa soldiers. The soldiers take the peasants to see the general, whereupon Rokurōta explains Yuki's true identity, and states that all of the gold will be used to restore her family's domain. The peasants are then dispatched, taking a single ryō. Finally, Tahei gives this to Matashichi to protect; but Matashichi allows Tahei to keep it.



This was Kurosawa's first feature filmed in a widescreen format, Tohoscope, which he continued to use for the next decade. Hidden Fortress was originally presented with Perspecta directional sound, which was re-created for the Criterion DVD release.[citation needed]

Key parts of the film were shot in Hōrai Valley in Hyōgo.


The Hidden Fortress was released theatrically in Japan on December 28, 1958.[2] The film was the highest-grossing film for Toho in 1958, ranking as the fourth overall highest-grossing films in Japan that year.[2] In box-office terms, The Hidden Fortress was Kurosawa’s most successful film, until the 1961 release of Yojimbo.[3]

The film was released theatrically in the United States by Toho International Col. with English subtitles.[2] It was screened in San Francisco on November 1959 and received a wider release on October 6, 1960 with a 126-minute running time.[2] The film was re-issued in the United States in 1962 with a 90-minute running time.[2]

Critical reception[edit]

Writing for The Criterion Collection in 1987, David Ehrenstein called it "one of the greatest action-adventure films ever made" and a "fast-paced, witty and visually stunning" samurai film."[4] According to Ehrenstein:[4]

"The battle on the steps in Chapter 2 (anticipating the climax of Ran) is as visually overwhelming as any of the similar scenes in Griffith's Intolerance. The use of composition in depth in the fortress scene in Chapter 4 is likewise as arresting as the best of Eisenstein or David Lean. Toshiro Mifune's muscular demonstrations of heroic derring-do in the horse-charge scene (Chapter 11) and the scrupulously choreographed spear duel that follows it (Chapter 12) is in the finest tradition of Douglas Fairbanks. Overall, there’s a sense of sheer "movieness" to The Hidden Fortress that places it plainly in the ranks of such grand adventure entertainments as Gunga Din, The Thief of Baghdad, and Fritz Lang's celebrated diptych The Tiger of Eschnapur and The Hindu Tomb.

Writing for The Criterion Collection in 2001, Armond White said "The Hidden Fortress holds a place in cinema history comparable to John Ford's Stagecoach: It lays out the plot and characters of an on-the-road epic of self-discovery and heroic action. In a now-familiar fashion, Rokurōta and Princess Yuki fight their way to allied territory, accompanied by a scheming, greedy comic duo who get surprised by their own good fortune. Kurosawa always balances valor and greed, seriousness and humor, while depicting the misfortunes of war."[3]

Upon the film's UK re-release in 2002, Jamie Russell, reviewing the film for the BBC, said it "effortlessly intertwines action, drama, and comedy", calling it "both cracking entertainment and a wonderful piece of cinema."[5]


The film won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 9th Berlin International Film Festival in 1959.[2][6] Kinema Junpo awarded Shinobu Hashimoto the award for Best Screenwriter for his work on the film and for Tadashi Imai's Night Drum and Yoshitaro Nomura's Harikomi.[2]


George Lucas has acknowledged the heavy influence of The Hidden Fortress on Star Wars,[7] particularly in the technique of telling the story from the perspective of the film's lowliest characters, C-3PO and R2-D2.[8][9] Lucas's original plot outline for Star Wars also had a strong resemblance to the plot of The Hidden Fortress,[10] which would be reused for The Phantom Menace.

The Japanese-inspired video game Shogo: Mobile Armor Division features a level called "The Hidden Fortress", one of many tributes (including a level called "High and Low") to Kurosawa in the game.


A loose remake entitled Kakushi Toride no San-Akunin: The Last Princess was directed by Shinji Higuchi and released on May 10, 2008.



  1. ^ a b c d Galbraith IV 2008, p. 151.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Galbraith IV 2008, p. 152.
  3. ^ a b c White, Armond (May 21, 2001). "The Hidden Fortress". Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2012-08-09.
  4. ^ a b Ehrenstein, David (October 12, 1987). "The Hidden Fortress". Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2012-08-09.
  5. ^ Russell, Jamie (31 January 2002). "The Hidden Fortress (Kakushi Toride No San Akumin) (1958)". BBC. Retrieved 2012-08-09.
  6. ^ "Berlinale: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  7. ^ Kamiski, Michael (2007). The Secret History of Star Wars (PDF). p. 48. Retrieved 2011-01-31.
  8. ^ Star Wars DVD audio commentary
  9. ^ Kamiski, Michael (2007). The Secret History of Star Wars (PDF). p. 47. Retrieved 2011-01-31.
  10. ^ Stempel, Tom; Dunne, Philip (2000). Framework: A History of Screenwriting in the American Film (3rd ed.). Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press. p. 154 & 204. ISBN 0815606540. Retrieved 27 March 2012.


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