Toshiro Mifune   

Born: April 1, 1920
Died: December 24, 1997

In America, we have many different icons in film. For ideals of virility and strength, we look to the likes of John Wayne, Humphrey Bogart, Robert De Niro, and many others, each adding something to the image of the perfect American leading man. In Japan, only one star is necessary: Toshiro Mifune. For almost 50 years, he dominated Japanese cinema as a leading man in both period and contemporary dramas. Specifically, his 20-year working relationship with Akira Kurosawa made him not only the biggest star in Japan, but also a cultural ambassador to the world. At once sensitive and powerful, controlled and explosive, Mifune exemplified the Japanese ideal. From his boyish rogue in Seven Samurai to his guilt-ridden bourgeois businessman in High and Low, he showed that not only could he be this solitary icon, but that he didn't require a consistent persona to maintain his status. Among his most famous samurai roles are those of Musashi Miyamoto in Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy and Sanjuro, the crafty ronin in Kurosawa's Yojimbo and Sanjuro, which served as inspiration for Clint Eastwood's character in his "spaghetti" westerns with Sergio Leone. Mifune even took on Macbeth as a samurai in Kurosawa's brilliant Throne of Blood. After his working partnership with Kurosawa ended with 1965's Redbeard, he found continued success in both Japan and America, despite his inability to speak English. (Kurosawa, on the other hand, had tremendous struggles getting his later films made without his favorite star.) He gained his greatest fame stateside with the 1980 TV mini-series "Shogun". He worked consistently (if in less physically-taxing roles) until his death in 1997, just one year before Kurosawa would follow him. His memory lives on in the hearts of film fans and even in the title of a Danish film: Mifunes sidste sang.
    -- by Matt Heffernan <>



Kumonosu jo (Throne of Blood)

Shichinin no samurai (Seven Samurai)


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© 2001 Matt Heffernan