The Hidden Fortress ★★★

There are quite a few typically stunning scenes in The Hidden Fortress — an epic-sized slave revolt, a thrilling horseback sword-fight, a tense battlestaff contest, and a vibrant bonfire dance — but the early focus on the misfortunes of two bumbling losers grew tiresome quickly, making almost 90 minutes of this nearly two-and-half-hour movie drag somewhat aimlessly. While it's obvious Kurosawa was attempting to juxtapose idealism and cynicism, neither party is nuanced or dynamic enough to sustain a picture of this length, and too much of it leans on the simple belief that arguing is, by its very nature, funny, which isn't one to which I readily ascribe.

Most astonishingly, I also felt like this was the least visually appealing of the Kurosawa movies I've seen. It was the great director's first widescreen effort, and while I often find myself marvelling at his meticulous framing, I rarely felt awestruck by The Hidden Fortress. The black-and-white photography was full of muddy mid-level grays, and Kurosawa appeared to struggle with composing on the same wider canvas that he used perfectly a few years later in High and Low.

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