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SPECIFICATIONS
  • 2.35:1 Widescreen
  • 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
  • Japanese Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Japanese DTS-HD 5.1 Surround
  • English subtitles
  • 2 Discs
FEATURES
  • New audio commentary by film historian Stephen Prince, author of The Warrior's Camera: The Cinema of Akira Kurosawa
  • Documentary from 2003 on the making of the film, created as part of the Toho Masterworks series Akira Kurosawa: It Is Wonderful to Create
  • Interview from 2001 with filmmaker George Lucas about Kurosawa
  • Trailer

The Hidden Fortress

Dual-Format Edition
Reviewed by: Chris Galloway

Directed By: Akira Kurosawa
Starring: Toshiro Mifune, Minoru Chiaki, Kamatari Fujiwara, Susumu Fujita, Misa Uehara
139 | 1958 Minutes | Licensor: Toho Co.

Release Information
Blu-ray | MSRP: $39.95 | Series: The Criterion Collection | Edition: #116
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Release Date: March 18, 2014
Review Date: March 13, 2014

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SYNOPSIS

A grand-scale adventure as only Akira Kurosawa could make one, The Hidden Fortress stars the inimitable Toshiro Mifune as a general charged with guarding his defeated clan's princess (a fierce Misa Uehara) as the two smuggle royal treasure across hostile territory. Accompanying them are a pair of bumbling, conniving peasants who may or may not be their friends. This rip-roaring ride is among the director's most beloved films and was a primary influence on George Lucas's Star Wars. The Hidden Fortress delivers Kurosawa's trademark deft blend of wry humor, breathtaking action, and compassionate humanity.

Forum members rate this film 8.7/10

 

Discuss the film and Blu-ray here   


PICTURE

Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress gets a much needed upgrade from Criterion in a new dual-format edition. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of about 2.39:1 with a new 1080p/24hz high-definition transfer on the dual-layer Blu-ray disc. The dual-layer DVD delivers a standard-definition version of the film in anamorphic widescreen.

The new high-def presentation on the Blu-ray offers a drastic and noticeable improvement over the previous DVD edition released by Criterion, with a far cleaner transfer. There are no signs of any digital artifacts, edges are clean, and the fine grain levels are rendered naturally. The brightness knob may have been boosted a little but contrast and gray levels look excellent, and the tonal shifts are seamless and unsoiled. The film’s excellent use of deep focus comes through in the fine object detail delivered in backgrounds, where even pebbles are clearly presented.

Another big improvement over the previous DVD edition is the quality of the print. The source print used for the original DVD transfer had gone through some extensive restoration work but some heavy damage remained. You could make out splice cuts throughout many of the scene transitions, and large stains and scratches popped up frequently enough to call attention to them. Judging by the notes the same source print was used—a 35mm fine-grain master positive—but further restoration work has been done. Those large splices are now gone and the heavier moments of damage are now clean. All that seems to remain are a few minor blemishes and small bits of debris. Otherwise this looks the cleanest I have ever seen the film.

The DVD’s standard-definition transfer doesn’t deliver the eye-popping details that the Blu-ray does in the backgrounds, but using the same high-definition transfer for its base it still delivers a noticeable improvement over the old DVD. The old DVD’s transfer was actually pretty good for the time, with the only real caveat being the condition of the source print. But as time has passed and as we’ve been spoiled with some amazing DVD transfers (and high-definition of course) the transfer’s compression problems are more noticeable. This new DVD presentation gets rid of a lot of the more problematic compression glitches and delivers a cleaner transfer in comparison. It also has the added benefit of also missing those aforementioned print issues. Though the Blu-ray’s transfer is still better by a considerable amount, the new DVD also offers an improvement for those that haven’t upgraded to Blu-ray yet.

All in all both formats present a great looking transfer with a better looking source print and a far sharper, more natural looking delivery.

9/10

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AUDIO

Like the previous DVD edition Criterion delivers two audio tracks: a mono track and a recreation of the 3-channel Perspecta stereo presentation that played in certain theaters. The DVD presents both in Dolby Digital while the Blu-ray delivers the mono track in linear PCM and the 3.0 track in DTS-HD MA 5.1, with everything being directed to the front three speakers.

Age is more of the hindrance here and I think both tracks accurately reflect the original materials as well as they can. Both are a bit tinny and contain a little bit of background noise. Music can be edgy and a bit harsh but it’s not unbearable. Fidelity is non-existence and there is a generally flat sound to everything. The 3.0 track has some noticeable panning and movement between the speakers, with music filling it out. It doesn’t sound entirely natural, but I think it more than likely sticks true to how the original presentation would have sounded (the track worked by encoding a mono track with different frequencies to direct the audio to different speakers.)

Quality between the two are about the same so it will come down to personal preference which track to listen to.

6/10

SUPPLEMENTS

The previous DVD edition was pretty scant on supplements, with only a trailer and an interview with George Lucas, but Criterion has added on more here.

New to this edition is an audio commentary featuring film scholar Stephen Prince. Though I felt he may have been running out of steam as he got closer to the end of the film, Prince holds the track rather well, talking about Kurosawa’s reasons for making the film (basically he wanted a hit after a few disappointments,) the actors that appear throughout, the Noh style of acting that makes its way in, and the themes that appear in this and throughout his other work. He does spend quite a bit of time talking about Kurosawa’s use of the widescreen format, The Hidden Fortress being his first widescreen film, and how he frames the compositions and edits the film with quick cuts, despite the unspoken rule in Hollywood that widescreen films should not have any quick cutting for fear of confusing the audience. He also talks quite a bit about the film’s The Hidden Fortress influenced, which is not only Star Wars (easily the most famous example) but it also greatly influenced Sergio Leone, specifically The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. And he also talks about the films that Kurosawa was influenced by, primarily those of John Ford. I’ve listened to so many commentaries about Kurosawa now there aren’t many surprises anymore but Prince manages to offer some strong insights about the film and the themes that appear throughout his work.

Criterion then includes another segment from Akira Kurosawa: It is Wonderful to Create. The 41-minute documentary is structured similarly to the others from the series. Through archival interviews with the director and surviving members of the cast and crew, we learn about the film’s production and hear a number of stories from the set. Expanding on some of what Prince mentions in his track, the feature delves more into the John Ford influences, particularly the use of horses in the film, with many stories about the horses being shared (an archival audio interview with actress Misa Uehara has the actress share stories about learning to ride.) Like the other episodes in the series it’s by-the-numbers but it’s entertaining and worth viewing.

Carried over from the previous DVD edition is an 8-minute interview with director George Lucas. In it Lucas talks about how Kurosawa influenced him as a director and what he most admired about his work, from his editing to his camerawork and compositions. He talks a little about The Hidden Fortress and how it did inspire him when he was writing Star Wars, though says it was primarily the opening with the two peasants, which influenced the opening of Star Wars with the droids. The rest of the plot (about a general trying to get a princess out of enemy territory) was more of a coincidence. Though Lucas is his usual laid back, monotone self, it’s a good interview, with the director simply gushing about Kurosawa, and offering insights into how the filmmaker not only influenced him but others of the same generation.

The disc then closes with a rather lengthy 4-minute theatrical trailer that opens with some behind-the-scenes footage. The included booklet then contains an essay by Catherine Russell, offering more insights on the film’s humanistic elements and presentation of class, expanding on some similar things Prince covers in his track. Armond White’s essay from the previous DVD, which looked more at the genre conventions in the film, has not been moved over to this edition.

Still not a stacked edition but it does offer a big improvement over the previous DVD and I thought all of the material was worth the effort of getting through.

7/10

CLOSING

Whether getting it for the Blu-ray or DVD, and whether you own the previous edition or not, this new edition comes highly recommended. It sports a stronger transfer and some interesting additional features.


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