The Hidden Fortress

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The Hidden Fortress (1958) is another Kurosawa masterpiece that blew me away. Like characters from Shakespeare, two pusillanimous peasants bicker over how irritating they are to each other as they head home after escaping from a wartime prison. One stumbles upon some gold hidden in a stick in a river. An emblem on the stick shows that the gold is the fortune from the clan that lost the war. Greed overcomes the men and they start trying to get all the sticks they can. They become obsessed and go back and forth between cooperation and conflict over the gold.

This ancient, Japanese vaudeville act is soon upset when a strange man sees them hunting for the gold. Eventually, they learn he’s a legendary general who’s intent upon saving an exiled princess and returning her to safety and restoring her clan. As foolish as the peasants are, they do occasionally come up with clever ideas. The gruff general realizes their counterintuitive plan to go through enemy territory could work since no one expects them to take that route.

What follows is a story of courage and honor, peppered with outstanding action scenes, wit and just plain foolishness that made me smile. Toshiro Mifune is outstanding as the general, who’d probably love to ditch the peasants but keeps them with him just because they’d probably do more harm to his mission and themselves if left to their own devices.

The princess exudes force and honor as no other character, I can recall. Raised like a boy, she’s strong, brave and willful. Kurosawa shows that she cares for her people because she insists that the general buy one of her subjects who’s been sold to a brothel owner even though taking another person on their journey is risky. Various viewers have noted that the princess is played by an actress whose career never took off and that the performance is rather one dimensional. I see what they mean, but I don’t think that one weak performance hurt the film that much. The princess was quite compelling and not just a stereotypical character who needed saving so the story had momentum.

The one thing about the princess that puzzled me was that for some reason her eyebrows were drawn on at 45° angles. They were very dark and dominated her face.

Like many Kurosawa films, The Hidden Fortress has great power and grab me emotionally. All in all, The Hidden Fortress is a classic that’s not to be missed. It inspired George Lucas when he conceived of Star Wars. 

The Way


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Emilio Estevez directs his father Martin Sheen in The Way, a touching movie about a father whose son dies suddenly as he just began a pilgrimage along El Camino a.k.a. the Way of St James (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) in Spain. Sheen plays Tom, a grieving suburban father, who is called to Spain to pick up his son’s remains.

Rather than return immediately to the US, Tom feels called to complete his son’s trek and sets out along El Camino planning to distribute his son’s ashes along the way. As the story unfolds, grouchy, taciturn Tom ponders his relationship with is son and meets three other hikers who join him, much to his own displeasure.

The photography is breathtaking and made me want to head out on this 500 mile journey. It seems like a rather jolly endeavor for most. According to the film, you walk along gentle slopes with beautiful vistas; you sleep in hostels, some of which were rather stark and grimy, but you feast on terrific food and wine. Not a bad life, huh?

The central story involved Tom reconciling with his dead son and therein lies the weakness of the film. By the end of the film, I had no better understanding of Daniel, the son, than I did at the start. Tom’s no chatterbox and deflects most questions about his son. When he speaks of his son, it’s in generalities. Daniel becomes a kind of Every Son, because all we know was he rebelled by ending his doctorate studies and taking to the road against his father’s will. Since Daniel was nearly 40 and wasn’t asking his father for anything, this isn’t so bad. Had Tom opened up more with his companions, perhaps the story would have been stronger.

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Still El Camino seems to be the star of the film and The Way is a pleasant enough way to experience it.