Kurosawa most often did his finest work when combining his idiosyncratic and popular sensibilities into humane, broadly accessible entertainments; it just so happens that The Hidden Fortress remains more unabashedly entertaining than most.
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This is not to say that the action is not vivid, exciting and tense, or that Kurosawa's camera is any less graphic than it usually is. This is simply to say that The Hidden Fortress is essentially a superficial film and that Kurosawa, for all his talent, is as prone to pot-boiling as anyone else.
The Hidden Fortress is a bracing adventure in its own right — not a frivolous outlier from one of cinema’s most formative oeuvres, but rather a Cervantes-inflected delight that complicates and enriches Kurosawa’s signature humanism by exploring the value of morality in an amoral world.
Perhaps the most satisfying and endearing aspect of The Hidden Fortress at this juncture of movie history is that it so persuasively lends meaning to a high adventure format, using the stimulation to enhance ideals of individual valor and group solidarity.
By introducing comedy into the mixture and telling the tale from an atypical perspective, Kurosawa has differentiated The Hidden Fortress from nearly every similar feudal era Japanese epic ever committed to the screen. This is a masterpiece that deserves more credit than it is often given.
The Hidden Fortress is, above all, a roaring piece of entertainment, a Western-like samurai adventure set against the chaos of 16th-century Japan.
It isn’t Kurosawa’s best picture, by any means, but it’s almost certainly his most fun.
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.