The last time I saw The Hidden Fortress, I was a sophomore at USC trying to figure out which parts of Akira Kurosawa's samurai flick figured into George Lucas' uberpopular Star Wars. Lucas himself had been an SC film student back in the early '60s when he caught Fortress on its initial release - and admitted it was one of the inspirations for his epic space opera series.
Fifty some years after Lucas first caught it, and nearly twenty after I first screened it, it still holds up as a solid piece of entertainment and filmmaking, and one of Kurosawa's more mainstream efforts. It's the tale of a ragtag group - two peasants, a princess, a warrior and a servant girl - as they journey through enemy territory to restore the princess to her native throne.
For those unfamiliar with the samurai genre or other Kurosawa classics a la Yojimbo or Ran, the parallels to Star Wars might not be obvious at first...but they're there in the details. The two bickering peasants are only a couple steps removed from robots R2D2 and C-3PO. Princess Leia has the same spunk, confidence and ability as our princess here, and while the samurai warlord is more formal than Han Solo or Luke Skywalker, he's actually just a younger Ben Kenobi. The pivotal fight scene with the lead villain (who undergoes his own Darth Vader-esque transformation) is as exciting and kinetic as Ben and Darth's battle in Episode IV.
Just as fun as catching Fortress again was seeing it with my childhood pals - two of whom went to USC with me - at Maryland's cool AFI Silver Theatre and Cultural Center. It's a little strange seeing an AFI theater (with a premier auditorium and some great smaller theaters screening 80's movies) so far removed from the hulabaloo of Hollywood and New York, but it's refreshing, too. Fortress was another packed house. On this east coast adventure, it's awesome to see lots of people out in full force at a venue tailored for their love of film.
Premiere moviegoing at AFI's Silver Theatre in Maryland...
And some great '80s movies upcoming...too bad this isn't playing near me...