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Tag Archive: Akira Kurosawa

The Hidden Fortress: The Japanese Film that Influenced Star Wars

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  • January 16, 2017

In the next few years, December won’t only mean Christmas. It will also bring Star Wars! It began with 2015’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” followed by “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” in 2016. A series of upcoming movies from the same franchise is set to be released on December for the next few years. For all Star Wars fans, the 12th month of the year sure got more exciting!

The creator of Star Wars, George Lucas, credits one of Japan’s and the world’s most renowned and influential filmmakers, Akira Kurosawa (1910–1998) for enhancing his creative juices while working on Star Wars. Kurosawa directed 30 films in his career that spanned 57 years, including the film that influenced Star Wars, The Hidden Fortress. Techniques from this film were used in Star Wars, such as narrating the story from the perspective of minor characters like R2-D2 and C-3PO. The plot and outline for Star Wars also showed strong resemblance to the plot of The Hidden Fortress, which was also reused for The Phantom Menace.

The Hidden Fortress poster.

The Hidden Fortress was told from the perspective of two lowly peasants who find themselves to be in the service of a princess and her general (similar to Princess Leia and Han Solo). The film is all about storming a large enemy fortress and coming to the aid of a princess.

Luke Skywalker and R2-D2. | Manoel Lemos

Certain elements in Star Wars also bear a strong resemblance to Japanese traditions and history. The popular Jedi knights seem quite similar to samurai warriors, the sōhei (僧兵) in particular. They were Japanese Buddhist warrior monks during Japan’s feudal years. This strikes a familiar chord to the Jedi’s iconic light saber, long flowing robes, and religious dedication to their craft. Darth Vader’s mask is also said to resemble the masks worn by samurai warriors.

Whether a Jedi or a samurai, may the Force be with you!

R.I.P. Carrie Fisher a.k.a. Princess Leia. | Tom Simpson

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The “New” Seven Samurai

This past weekend I saw the stunning film Seven Samurai (七人の侍 Shichinin no samurai–1954), digitally remastered in high-def.  At 3½ hours, it was much longer than conventional films, but I was riveted the whole time.  It played at my local independent movie house. (For those of you in Bellingham, it’s part of a Masters of Japanese Cinema program by the Pickford and Western Washington University.

Akira Kurosawa, the director, created the basic recruitment-of-heroes film that has been a model for so many–The Magnificent Seven and Ocean’s Eleven, among others.  Even more, this film was a major forerunner of the introduction of Asian sensibilities–zen, aesthetics, food, style–to the American public.

As Patrick Crogan of SensesOfCinema says, the movie itself was “an action film that engaged the emotions and the intellect in equal and extraordinary measures.”  I’m by no means a film expert.  But I was captivated by the water-wind-fire-mud motifs, the camera shots pitting sweeping, dynamic warrior scenes against quiet close-ups.  Everybody ran everywhere, in that village!  The strong winds blowing were intensely powerful.  It was also supremely satisfying to see some character development (or revelation) in an action movie–not easy to do.  The themes are undoubtedly tied in with the Japanese peoples’ search for identity, a clear moral code, and nationalism after World War II.  Toshiro Mifune (a major character in many of Kurosawi’s films) and Takashi Shimura star.

Toshiro Mifune

It’s impossible not to be engaged by this movie.  And I was not at all prepared for the enormous role humor played in the story.  If you’re looking for some good insight into what it means to be Japanese, this movie is a champion.  It ranks among the world’s best films of all time.

Check out–

Senses of cinema

wikipedia/Seven Samurai

Criterion Films

Masters of Japanese Cinema

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