The Hidden fortress is definitely the most light-hearted of Kurosawa films I have seen so far. Stuart Galbraith in his book ‘The emperor and the wolf’ calls it a “100% percent entertainment” fare - I can’t agree less. Soon after Kurosawa made Throne of blood and The lower depths that had starkly dark themes, he wanted to go for something light, wholesome and easy on the viewer - he couldn’t have chosen/made anything better than The Hidden fortress for such a treat.
A princess on the run from enemies is guarded zealously by her brave army commander Makabe Rokurota. They hide in a fortress hidden perfectly and made inaccessible by tough mountains. But two greedy farmers in search of gold come close to their lair once. Rokurota senses their greed and thinking extra hands can come handy for speedy getaways, takes them in. The story is about whether/how the bunch crosses enemy lines to safety.
The greedy bickering farmers, one of them is the priest from Rashomon (made a few years earlier) and the other the inn-keeper from Yojimbo (which would come a few years later), from beginning till end make the movie a humorous ride.
Toshiro Mifune as Rokurota is excellent (wifey already has a crush on him!) He stands out in a lance fight scene and a horse chase scene that precedes it. His serious demeanor is counter-balanced by the buffoonery of greedy farmers. One of their best is when, thinking the princess is mute, they make plans to steal the gold. Their attempts to convey to princess about taking horses for water is laugh out loud material; the background music does its part in adding funny touches.
The princess is good but for her high-pitched harangues. Needless to say, she is at her best as the mute.
Kurosawa and his team apparently collaborated in a novel way for the script. He used to come up with getaway ideas every morning and his team would find ways of blocking those. It is no wonder that the output we see on the screen has many an entertaining cat-and-mouse like chase sequences.
Many sequences like the one in the beginning when war prisoners stage an uprising against the soldiers are mounted on a grand scale (as precursors to much grander war scenes to come in Kagemusha and Ran).
All in all, 100% entertainment!