The Hidden Fortress (1958)    

No sleep till Brooklyn.
I will not talk until Ashikawa.
And so you push play with your first Kurosawa film. You’ll realize at once you’re in the hands of a master. Whatever you were watching before—it must not have been even in the same league. Epic tales of honor and swordplay, but not too much swordplay, and not merely for swordplay’s sake. There’s something about blood in black and white. It looks like oil. And in certain moments, there’s a dreamlike combination of serenity, scenery and impending violence. I’m thinking particularly of the scenes in which they’re climbing that Sisyphean “rubble to horizon” and those in which they sit behind a log and calmly ponder their next course of action, enemies closing in on all sides. War is a failure of diplomacy.

There is honor and duty, courage and betrayal, lust and greed, action and regret, and surely there is a message somewhere in all of that. But I needn’t unravel the scroll today. Because DVDs are forever. Let me point out just one trick. The way Kurosawa has the audience and the peasants doubt and find out about their mysterious master in lock step. A beautiful technique of story telling. A delicious black and white mojito. “It’s not sake for Christ’s

And don’t let the language barrier stop you from seeking out and plundering these Kurosawa films. In fact, the language barrier is a good thing because it creates a perpetual opportunity for new translations—each being an entirely new film experience. Surely there are myriad translation houses both capable and eager to interpret such classics. What could be more fun than translating a phrase like “we’re screwed” for a Criterion film. I’d do it for free. DVD’s should offer a choice of subtitle styles even within the same language. (I know; I’ve said this before.)

The other point is that the Japanese language, spoken (or shouted, to be more precise), is downright exhilarating. There’s no two ways about it. Kurosawa may not have invented Japanese, but well, it is in his films and no one can deny that.

Entrusted by the Emperor with a mission that would cost him his life,
He was not like other men who steal away when favors have ceased.
His great action, rare at any time, makes men weep.
He has put on his armor, and now he must part with his son.

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