After suffering defeat during Japan's 16th-century civil war, General Rokurota (Toshiro Mifune) tries to escort his clan's deposed princess out of enemy territory. Trouble is, he's also saddled with his people's remaining finances - gold bars cunningly hidden in firewood - so he's forced to enlist two cowardly but greedy farmers to help him carry the loot.
As an "eastern Western," Akira Kurosawa's The Hidden Fortress imitates John Ford's films by mixing the high drama of the aristocrats' plight with the low comedy of the bickering farmers. It also blends intimate characterisation with vast vistas. The CinemaScope cinematography lends sweep, while the script thrusts characters - Mifune's stern, intense warrior, the headstrong princess and the clownish, comic peasants - rather than action to the fore.
A far lighter film than Kurosawa's most famous works, it's nevertheless had an undeniable impact on American cinema: George Lucas not only pinched its plot for Star Wars but turned the crotchety peasant duo into R2-D2 and C-3PO.