Filmed and released in Japan in 2008 the remake of Akira Kurasawa's Hidden Fortress
finally sees a DVD release in the UK. Is it worth the wait? Well,..if you are a die-hard Kurasawa fan then no, but you weren't going to watch this anyway. For everyone else..there are a lot worse ways to spend a couple of hours.
Director Shinji Higuchi takes the original screenplay and gives it the update that many 50 year old films often need. Now we could argue over doing something like this till we are blue in the face and still never come to any agreement so let me just say that I think Higuchi felt there were many things that would not appeal or even really be related to by today's audiences and leave it at that.
The overall plot remains essentially intact. Makabe Rokurota (Hiroshi Abe) is charged with escorting the last of the Akizuki royalty, Princess Yuki (Masami Nagasawa) and the gold needed to rebuild the kingdom to relative safety in a neighboring territory with the less than altruistic help of two peasants, played by Jun Matsumoto and Daisuke Miyagawa. For reasons that escape this American viewer they changed the names of the characters from the original film from "Tahei" and "Matakishi" to the more modern(?) "Takezo" and "Shinpachi". Neither here nor there I suppose.
Along the way we see many of the same predicaments as the original as well as many of the same villains, but not necessarily in the same order. Much of the reorder was done to quicken the plot a bit. While still rolling in at 118 minutes though this mostly made room for some action scenes...but some pretty damn cool action scenes!
The action is where The Last Princess
really comes into its own. There is some fantastic sword play that is emphasized with some first rate special effects that prove that being subtle, and using them to enhance rather than to replace can make an action scene far more entertaining!
I do have a few issues, the biggest being the "dumbing down" of Rokurato and giving the rather quick whits and brains to Takezo. This made the Samurai just a body guard and not the "Man! Is he cool or what?" sort of character of the original. This switch was a must for the film as Higuchi changes the overall theme of the film from "duty and honor" to one of love and compassion. But I'm quickly falling into the original vs. remake argument so lets once again leave it at that.
When it is all said and done the film is maybe a little too long, a little over the top and yes, to many of the Kurasawa fans out there, maybe a bit of an insult, but it is also a good deal of fun!