Hidden Fortress, The (1958)

The Hidden Fortress (1958), directed by Akira Kurosawa.

More even than The Seven Samurai (1954), this is an adventure film meant to appeal to a wide audience. A samurai costume picture the way John Ford would have done it. Both larger scale and lighter than the earlier film, with winks at modern viewers.

Our main characters:

As in Throne of Blood (1957), the General and the Princess are made up to suggest Noh masks, and their flute/percussion musical cues are from the theater.

This is mainly a story of escape and evasion in enemy territory, but we do have Mifune's swordfights, and an extended spear duel such as I have not seen elsewhere. This is Kurosawa's first widescreen film, and spear fighting makes great use of the scope ratio: the fighters are farther apart.

The desolate mountain images are gorgeous.

I'm sure everyone has heard of the film's influence on a certain space opera twenty years later:

Criterion Blu-ray with excellent image detail. Valuable commentary track, emphasizing the camera work and film construction, but with good notes on the story as well.