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
Screenplay by
Produced by
CinematographyKazuo Yamasaki[1]
Edited byAkira Kurosawa
Music byMasaru Sato[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. It narrates the story of two peasants who agree to escort a man and a woman across enemy lines in return for gold without knowing that he is a general and the woman is a princess. The film stars Toshiro Mifune as General Makabe Rokurōta (真壁 六郎太) and Misa Uehara as Princess Yuki while the role of the peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, are portrayed by Minoru Chiaki and Kamatari Fujiwara respectively.


Two bedraggled peasants, Tahei and Matashichi, intend to join the feudal Yamana clan in battle, but having arrived too late, are 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. Planning to evade the Yamana soldiers who are preventing refugees and defeated Akizuki clansmen from crossing the frontier to Hayakawa, the peasants encounter a mysterious man who takes them to a hidden Akizuki fortress. Unbeknownst to them, the man is a general of the defeated Akizuki clan, Makabe Rokurōta. Although Rokurōta was planning on killing the peasants, on hearing their plan, he decides it is so ingenious, he will let them live. They will travel to Yamana itself and then pass into Hayakawa through a different border. Rokurōta decides, without revealing anything to the peasants, to move the Akizuki Princess Yuki to Hayakawa, whose lord is an ally of the Akizuki clan.

Rokurōta escorts Princess Yuki and what remains of her family's gold to Hayakawa, with Matashichi and Tahei traveling with them. 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 their travels, the peasants impede their progress and sometimes try to seize the gold. They are later joined by a farmer’s daughter, whom they acquire from an innkeeper.

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, but 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. 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. The Princess proclaims that, 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 suddenly defects to the Akizuki side with the Princess, Rokurōta and the farmer's daughter. The group manages to escape along with the horses carrying the gold.

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 released, 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 Blu-ray release.[4]

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


The Hidden Fortress
Soundtrack album by
GenreFeature film soundtrack
LabelToho Music

The film has musical score by Masaru Sato. The soundtrack album comprises 65 tracks.[5][6]


  1. Titles
  2. Fallen Warrior's Death
  3. Peaceful Mountain Pass Road
  4. Yamana: Temporary Checkpoint
  5. War town ~ To the border
  6. Prisoner's loss of dignity
  7. Burnt Ruins of Autumn Moon Castle
  8. Flight
  9. Money!!!
  10. Mysterious Mountain Man 1
  11. Mysterious Mountain Man 2
  12. Good idea to go cross country
  13. Shining Extended Staff
  14. Road to the Hidden Fortress
  15. Woman on the Summit
  16. Useless Work
  17. Spring Woman
  18. Escaping Woman
  19. Reward Money
  20. Rokurota, to the Cave
  21. Princess Yuki's tears
  22. Horse and Princess
  23. Riding in the indicated direction
  24. Setting off
  25. Gestured Excuse
  26. Rokurota's Scouting
  27. Reliable Ally 1
  28. Reliable Ally 2
  29. Over the Black Smoke
  30. Bolder Trick
  31. Into the cheap lodgings
  32. Autumn Moon Woman
  33. Princess Yuki's Wish
  34. Adept on Horseback
  35. Spear March
  36. Departing Rokurota
  37. Party's true shape
  38. Daughter and Rokurota
  39. Sleeping Princess
  40. Line of Firefighters
  41. Surprising Rokurota (unused)
  42. Introduction to Firefighters
  43. Firefighters
  44. Highland Hauting
  45. Going Downhill
  46. Coming to the same conclusion
  47. To Hayawaka Territory
  48. Matashichi and Peace, In the checkpoint
  49. Firefighter's Song
  50. Execution Draws Near
  51. Treasonous Pardon ~ Pass Crossing
  52. Two Bad men in prison
  53. Reunion in a Castle
  54. Reward
  55. Ending
  56. Castle Town (ambient sounds 1)
  57. Castle Town (ambient sounds 2)
  58. Child Song

Alternative Takes

  1. Titles
  2. Escaping Woman
  3. Adept on Horseback
  4. Departing Rokurota (alt take 1)
  5. Departing Rokurota (alt take 2)
  6. To Hayawaka Territory
  7. Reunion in a Castle


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 highest-grossing film overall 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] The film was compared unfavorably to Rashomon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1954), and performed poorly at the U.S. box office.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

An article published in The New York Times on January 24, 1962, had the film's review by prominent journalist Bosley Crowther who called The Hidden Fortess a superficial film. He said

AKIRA KUROSAWA, the Japanese director whose cinema skills have been impressed upon us in many pictures, beginning with "Rashomon", is obviously not above pulling a little wool over his audiences' eyes — a little stooping to Hollywoodisms — in order to make a lively film.

He mentioned that Kurosawa, for all his talent, is as prone to pot boiling as anyone else.[8]

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. According to Ehrenstein:

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.[9]

David Parkinson of the Empire on a review posted on January 1, 2000, gave the film four out of five stars and wrote "Somewhat overshadowed by the likes of Seven Samurai, this is a vigorously placed, meticulously staged adventure. It's not top drawer, but still ranks among the best of Kurosawa's minor masterpieces."[10]

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."[11]

Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian made a review on February 1, 2002. According to him:

Revered now as an inspiration for George Lucas, Kurosawa's amiable, forthright epic romance happens on a scorched, rugged landscape which looks quite a lot like an alien planet. At other times, the movie plays like nothing so much as a roistering comedy western. But it has a cleverly contrived relationship between the principals, including a fantastically brash and virile Toshiro Mifune. The comedy co-exists with a dark view of life's brevity, and Kurosawa devises exhilarating setpieces and captivating images. Arthouse classics aren't usually as welcoming and entertaining as this.


Variety called it "a long, interesting, humour-laden picture in medieval Japan". Performances of the lead actors, Kurosawa's direction and Ichio Yamazaki's camerawork were praised.[13]

The film has an aggregate of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes based on 31 critic reviews.[14]


The film won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 9th Berlin International Film Festival in 1959.[2][15] 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,[16] particularly in the technique of telling the story from the perspective of the film's lowliest characters, C-3PO and R2-D2.[17][18] Lucas's original plot outline for Star Wars also had a strong resemblance to the plot of The Hidden Fortress,[19] which would be reused for The Phantom Menace.

A number of plot elements from The Hidden Fortress are used in the 2006 video game Final Fantasy XII.[20][21] The Japanese-inspired video game Shogo: Mobile Armor Division (1998) 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. ^ Stuart Galbraith IV (March 18, 2014). "The Hidden Fortress (Criterion Collection) (Blu-ray)". DVD Talk. Retrieved May 7, 2020.
  5. ^ World of Soundtrack (3 May 2009). "Masaru Sato — The Hidden Fortress". Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  6. ^ "The Hidden Fortress". Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  7. ^ Nollen, Scott Allen (14 March 2019). 1958 The Hidden Fortress. ISBN 9781476670133.
  8. ^ NYTimes (24 January 1962). "Screen:'Hidden Fortress' from Japan:Kurosawa Resorts to Hollywood Effects Also Pulls Little Wool Over Viewers' Eyes". Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  9. ^ Ehrenstein, David (October 12, 1987). "The Hidden Fortress". Criterion Collection. Retrieved 2012-08-09.
  10. ^ Empire (1 January 2000). "The Hidden Fortress review by The Empire". Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  11. ^ Russell, Jamie (31 January 2002). "The Hidden Fortress (Kakushi Toride No San Akumin) (1958)". BBC. Retrieved 2012-08-09.
  12. ^ The Guardian (1 February 2002). "The Hidden Fortress: The comedy co-exists with a dark view of live's brevity, and Kurosawa devises exhilarating setpieces and captivating images". Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  13. ^ Variety. "Variety reviews The Hidden Fortress". Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  14. ^ Rotten Tomatoes. "The Hidden Fortress Review". Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  15. ^ "Berlinale: Prize Winners". Retrieved 2010-01-09.
  16. ^ Kamiski, Michael (2007). The Secret History of Star Wars (PDF). p. 48. Retrieved 2011-01-31.
  17. ^ Star Wars DVD audio commentary
  18. ^ Kamiski, Michael (2007). The Secret History of Star Wars (PDF). p. 47. Retrieved 2011-01-31.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ "Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age - Review". Archived from the original on August 26, 2017. Retrieved August 26, 2017.
  21. ^ "Final Fantasy 12 the Zodiac Age review - A chance to revisit a much-overlooked classic". July 23, 2017. Archived from the original on August 26, 2017. Retrieved August 26, 2017.


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