We gave it a B+
Keanu Reeves’ big-budget hack-and-slash movie 47 Ronin is about to hit DVD and Blu-ray. Adapted from a Japanese national legend, the film is a CGI-fantasy battering ram that veers so goofily from its source material that it’s like making a movie in which the Charge of the Light Brigade battles an alien invasion. But if you’re a fan of ringing steel and the Bushido (military) code, you’re in luck, because a far better samurai film is also available: Akira Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress.
Toshiro Mifune plays a celebrated general who must escort a princess and a treasure of gold through enemy territory with the help of two blundering, duplicitous peasants. Criterion’s new digital restoration renders Kurosawa’s TohoScope camera work as gorgeous as ever, and while the film itself might not have the tragic epicness of Seven Samurai or the Shakespearean pedigree of Throne of Blood, it is an enthralling early action-adventure movie. The Hidden Fortress cast a long shadow over that genre, most notably in its influence on Star Wars. (An interview with George Lucas is included among the plentiful Extras.) And it’s not just wipe transitions and tomboyish princesses that Lucas borrowed: Kurosawa’s film perfects a similarly buoyant, swashbuckling tone that’s far more agreeable than the grim-faced, duty-bound seriousness of 47 Ronin. Plus, Mifune’s iconic full-body laugh is one of the greatest small pleasures in cinema. A-