In 2016, Japanese actor Toshirô Mifune (1920-1997) was honoured with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The posthumous recognition came after a long career which had spanned fifty years and about 170 films and television series, for which he had won numerous awards. With his vivid portrayals of warlords and samurai, Mifune ruled Japanese cinema for many years, becoming one of its greatest icons. For film fans around the world, Toshirô Mifune came to embody the image of the powerful and deadly samurai warrior. Mifune was truly the Last Samurai. This essay tells his story, discusses the collaboration with acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa, and looks at Mifune’s search for independence through his own production company.
For film fans around the world, Toshirô Mifune has come to embody the image of the noble samurai warrior. Although a versatile actor able to play a variety of roles, Mifune (pronounced as Mih-FOO-neh) became best known for masterfully portraying wandering, lone wolf rōnin (samurai without master). He was the lone anti-hero who set things right with his wit and skilful swordplay, fighting his way past numerous adversaries during his long career. With his vivid and powerful portrayals of warlords and samurai, as well as gangsters, doctors, noble peasants, and disillusioned modern men, Mifune ruled Japanese cinema for many years, becoming one of the greatest icons of Japanese cinema.
In the productive era between 1948 and 1965, the Golden Era of Japanese film, Mifune appeared in sixteen films directed by internationally acclaimed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Many of these films, such as Rashōmon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1954), are regarded as classic masterworks, testament to a unique collaboration between director and actor. As biographer Stuart Galbraith notes, while Kurosawa became the best known Japanese film director, “Toshirō Mifune was the incomparable actor whose screen presence carried Kurosawa’s work around the world”. In discussing their works, this essay argues that Toshirô Mifune and Akira Kurosawa proved themselves the greatest director/actor duo in the history of cinema.
With his vivid and powerful portrayals of warlords and samurai, as well as gangsters, doctors, noble peasants, and disillusioned modern men, Mifune ruled Japanese cinema for many years, becoming one of the greatest icons of Japanese cinema
This essay is a tribute to Toshirô (also spelled as just Toshiro or Toshirō) Mifune, the most distinguished Japanese actor of the twentieth century. Trough his energetic and exciting performances, he greatly contributed to the worldwide popularity of Japanese cinema. In celebrating the life and works of Mifune, it is hoped that this essay contributes to new generations discovering the greatness of Japanese cinema, particularly the body of films and television series illuminated by the presence of Mifune.
The essay is divided in three sections; spring, summer and autumn. As we walk through the seasons, we follow the life and career of Mifune – from growing up and being drafted into the army to becoming a star in Japan and finally a world renown actor. Continuing where most other biographies stop, particular attention is given to the ‘post-Kurosawa’ era, during which Mifune sought independence by establishing his own production company and acting school. The last pages contain an interview with Robert Red-Bear, who worked at Mifune’s acting school between 1981 and 1984 as the only foreign instructor. Our journey ends at Mifune’s last resting place in Kawasaki, near Tokyo.
Keywords: Toshiro Mifune, acting, cinema, Japanese film, life and work, samurai, shogun