DVD Title
The Hidden Fortress
International Title
The Hidden Fortress
DVD Length Original Length
139 Minutes 139 Minutes
Company Year of Manufacture
Criterion 2001
Language Subtitles
Japanese English
Region Number of Discs
1 1
Aspect Ratio Sound
2.35:1 (Anamorphic) 1.0 Mono, 3.0 Mono Perspecta
Menus (English)
Chapters (32)
. Trailers: The Hidden Fortress
Video Interview with George Lucas on Akira Kurosawa (8 minutes)

A relatively early Toho DVD release, The Hidden Fortress is a great reminder of how wonderful these earlier movies can look and sound on the format when the proper care is given to the title. In fact, Criterion does a spectacular job with both the movie's video and audio presentation, restoring both to a level of quality that was likely only topped by the movie in its original release. As for the supplemental content, it's a little light compared to other titles from the company, but still worth looking over.

 Video: Star Rating

Keeping in mind that the movie is 43 years old at the time that this disc went into manufacture, one really has to tip their hat to Criterion for the excellent video quality found on this release. There are some small problems to note though, which are mainly in regards to the print used for the transfer. These include a miniscule amount of grain, a few scratches (although more numerous on editing transitions), and some faint light shimmering near the top of the screen. These small annoyances aside, this transfer really looks fantastic for the source material's age. The amount of visible detail on this release is really something to behold, as the film looks incredibly sharp, while there are no signs of edge enhancement, or really any digital inconsistency for that matter. The brightness and contrast levels are also set accordingly here, with the movie having rich blacks while the darker sequences are still readily visible.

Hidden Fortress is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is Anamorphic for widescreen TVs.

 Audio: Star Rating

Criterion follows up the great video presentation on this disc with some equally fantastic audio tracks, which displays their commitment to the movie's original format. In total, there are two audio tracks present. The first is a 1.0 mono track, which sounds soft but not bad. The second, and a real treat, is a 3.0 Mono Perspecta presentation. The track is a sort of simulated stereo experience, taking the mono track and distributing it to the separate speakers using different frequencies. Despite sounding pretty rough in its description, the end result is actually pretty remarkable. Not as good as a solid two channel stereo track, but a respectable improvement over the dull one channel mono presentation, and it's the way the movie was originally intended to be experienced as well.

The audio can be accompanied by, removable, English subtitles that correspond to the Japanese track. The subtitling job is a little contemporary at times ("If someone else notices it, we're screwed."), but I didn't think it overstepped its boundaries too much at any point in the movie.

 Extras: Star Rating

Not a great deal of content, but it's worth checking out. The main attraction here, of course, is the eight minute video interview conducted with George Lucas. During the interview Lucas sounds off his three favorite titles from the director (Seven Samurai [1954], Yojimbo [1961], and Ikiru [1952]) while giving some history behind Kurosawa and how Hidden Fortress inspired Star Wars. Overall, the information isn't very in depth, while he downplays the connections between the 1958 movie and his own, but it's still a interesting watch and nice to see Lucas reflect on what he enjoyed about the director's body of work. The other extra on this disc is the film's own trailer, admittedly not in very good shape (both video and audio wise) but it's better than nothing.


Bottom line, this may not be Criterion's best effort, but it's a great early release from the company, and one that gives an idea of their dedication in restoring these movies to best represent their original presentations.

This disc is also featured in the DVD box set, Akira Kurosawa Four Samurai Classics.

- Anthony Romero  
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