August 13, 1984 12:00 PM

George Lucas claims this 1958 Japanese film was the inspiration for Star Wars, and it’s not hard to see why. Set against the backdrop of Japan’s 16th-century civil wars, the movie focuses on two bumbling farmers who happen upon some gold pieces hidden in the wood they are using to build a fire. Before the two can make off with the booty they are intercepted by Toshiro Mifune, who plays a fearsome-looking but likable general; he tells them that if they join him to help a beautiful princess escape, he’ll let them keep the gold. The princess has been deposed by a rival dynasty. If you imagine her as Princess Leia and the general as Han Solo, you begin to get the idea. And if you stretch it a little, the farmers, who constantly squabble but can’t seem to live without each other, could be R2-D2 and C-3PO. The movie was directed by Akira (The Seven Samurai) Kurosawa, who is a favorite of Lucas’ as well as of that other Hollywood hotshot, Francis Ford Coppola. In fact it was Coppola who arranged in 1980 for the American distribution of Kurosawa’s Kagemusha, a glorious sword epic, when no one else seemed to want it. This film was made in black and white, and although it’s a bit tedious (the endless climbing uphill and down to get to the secret fortress is awful), the battle scenes are spectacular, the byplay between the farmers witty and the wide shots of the battles and the Japanese countryside breathtaking. (In Japanese with English subtitles; not rated)

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