Two bumbling, dim-witted peasants caught in a 19th century feudal war meet a noble warrior (Mifune) and his charge, a mute and mysterious young woman (Uehara), to whom they offer their services — out of fear, ignorance, and the lure of gold. In truth, this commanding gentleman is Rokurota Makabe, a famed samurai general, and the mute girl a hunted princess, Lady Yukihime, who in less guarded moments is anything but silent. Together, they must use their lowly charges to help transport them past enemy lines to the safety of their kingdom.
In this bristling adventure with a leavening dose of humor, Kurosawa created one of his most indelible, influential early films, inspiring George Lucas to conceive Star Wars. (Think of the peasants as distant ancestors of R2D2 and C3PO). Kazuo Yamazaki's evocative black-and-white photography is enhanced by the widescreen format, which Kurosawa used here for the first time, lending the action a dazzling visual sweep. Meanwhile, Mifune plays at the top of his game as Makabe, while Uehara makes a feisty, bewitching princess well worth saving. Whatever you do, don't keep this "Fortress" hidden.