I got to see Kurosawa’s wonderful and funny Hidden Fortress on the big screen this week. In our standard venue, of course. This time we were without Smartz, leaving us free to pick up hot Kurosawa chicks. We… didn’t.
This is the movie that is famous for having inspired aspects of Star Wars. The volunteer gave a little preview that explained how this film was not at all similar to Star Wars, and the only similar aspect was having the story approached from the viewpoint of the minor characters. Except, watching it again, I realized that there is a lot that did come from Hidden Fortress in Star Wars. There is a general who needs to escape from the authorities with valuables. There is a princess who is a badass, but sweet too. There is a tough guy who realizes at the last moment that he should help the princess. Instead of seeing the princess vulnerable when her planet is threatened, we see her shed a tear as her remaining servants sacrifice themselves to save her, and the fortress burns in the distance. Sort of a combination of Luke’s aunt and uncle and Alderaan there, I suppose. But these aren’t minor similarities, to me.
I had never seen this on the big screen, and I realized why movies like this are meant for the theater. It’s a fun movie, big and humorous, with some surprisingly sweet moments. The funny moments are really funny. It’s over the top, in good ways, much as Star Wars is. The comic relief is great, and I actually laughed out loud several times at the goofy peasants. Watching them pantomime taking the horses for a drink is worth the entire movie alone. Seeing the movie like this, I liked it immensely more than I had previously. This is not a movie to watch while drinking tea and reading a magazine, as I had before. This is a Star Wars epic, for enjoying with friends.
The subtitling was generally quite good, but I had a few problems. One is the song, which is pretty key to the plot. They translate the first line as “A man’s life, burn it away,” or something similar. The better translation, which makes more sense in the context, and is explicit in the Japanese, is “A man’s life, man burns it away.” That’s important. The song is about wasting our time, and not living in the moment. It inspires the aforementioned Han Solo character to act, and the original, the despair version, would not.
This is a major problem with American takes on Japanese culture. Seen from our perspective, it can sometimes seem a little dark, or at least resigned. But it’s often a problem of linguistic and cultural translation. There is a certain sense of fate in Japanese culture that isn’t present in our youthful and idealistic society, true. But it isn’t negative. It’s just an acceptance of how things are, a low key realism, or pragmatism at the very least. One of my favorite aspects of Japanese culture is this pragmatism. It relaxes me. It’s a mellow culture, at its heart. One of the sad aspects of the modern, overworked office worker in Japan is how contrary it is to the nature of the country. I’ve heard that this workaholic period is slowly ending, which is a good thing. The Economist referred to Japan as the Switzerland of Asia a few years back, and I really like that. I hope that is the wave of the future. They can make a few Gamera films, drink some tea, and have a good rest on the tatami. Take a break, Japan, you deserve it!
The Japanese Han Solo is Susumu Fujita. He was in some Godzilla films too. He’s great. And Susumu is an awesome name.
This movie also has Takashi Shimura, who is awesome as usual. (He apparently even played the great tea master Sen No Rikkyu! He’s the best.)
PS. The original Japanese title is great, and sets the tone of the film: The Three Villains of the Hidden Fortress