Hiding in Plain Sight
False Identity and the use of Space in Akira Kursawa’s The Hidden Fortress
While often cast aside as merely a commercial film without much substance, The Hidden Fortress (Kurosawa, 1958) actually works within late-1950s Japanese society as a subtle critique on national and individual identity. The film functions as a morality tale, questioning the motivating factors behind character actions. The Hidden Fortress clearly distinguishes between morally pure and morally corrupt characters, yet the judgment is based on similar actions. Each character in the film pretends to be something that they are not. Yet, within the use of false identity lies a deeper purpose behind the action. Makabe (Toshiro Mifune) and Yuki (Misa Uehara) are continually contrasted with Tahei (Minoru Chiaki) and Matashichi (Kamatari Fujiwara) because the motivation behind each character’s façade is different. The former characters fight for nationhood and self-sacrifice while the latter characters are only interested in self-preservation and monetary gain. The importance of identity continually appears within the narrative structure of the film, but The Hidden Fortress also visually represents this theme through costuming and camera technique. Director Akira Kurosawa continually uses off-screen space (even though the film is shot in wide-screen) as a “hiding place,” that allows identity and spatial location to be masked until it becomes surprising and alarming.
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