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Nearly 20 years after his death and in the run-up to his centenary, Toshiro Mifune remains a true giant of Japanese cinema.
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Mifune: The Last Samurai movie full length review - Almost a god
We owe a debt of gratitude to Steve Okazaki, an American film maker of Japanese ancestry, for recalling the magnetic Japanese film star Toshiro Mifune, who in collaboration pr
incipally but not exclusively with Akira Kurozawa, during 16 years of a frenetic, fecund period of Japanese cinema that left his indelible mark on world cinema. Okazaki cleverly kept his camera on Mifune as samurai, the last samurai, which is slightly misleading. The decline of rerun houses and Japanese film retrospectives may have dimmed the memory of an extraordinary actor. Mifune was an outsider, a fact few know. He was born in China, in Dalian. At 20, he first came to Japan for military service, not welcome but treated as second class. He kept his counsel, cultivated a quiet patience and persevered. In fact, an actor of the Golden Age of Japanese cinema, thought of only one word that defined Mifune: perseverance, a steadfastness ignoring difficulties in achieving success. Other actors spoke of his tenacity, his gambatte spirit, but also of his generosity and kindness. At first he had a limited vision of a career: a camera man, but Kurozawa saw something in him as an actor. And the rest, as they say is history. But Mifune's eyes, they had a hypnotic effect. They had a beam, a spark of something special, something god-like, if you will, that on screen the spectator knew he was in the presence of a talent that enchanted him. An actor whom his directors left alone to develop his character, and they were not wrong, for Mifune gave his all to his samurai and dramatic roles that so quickly resonated in his fans inner being. You only have to think of his peasant who wanted to become a warrior in 'Seven Samurai' or the gruff, quick thinking general in 'Hidden Fortress' or his wily 'Yojimbo' or his subtle portrayal in 'Red Beard',where without a sword he prevails. And then there's his portrayal of Kurozawa' adaptation of 'Macbeth', 'Throne of Blood' where real arrows were used to kill the usurper he portrays, and his costar Isusu Yamada as a spellbinding Noh like Lady Macbeth. Okazaki mentions but slights the broader acting skills of Mifune, with the great Takashi Imamura. Look again at 'High and Low', 'The Bad Sleep Well', 'Lower Depths' and the less great Kurozawa's version of Dostoevski's 'The Idiot' with the legendary Sestsko Hara. As the quintessential samurai, Mifune gained an international reputation and following. (What greater homage could be paid by Alain Delon in Melville's 'le samourai'). In later life, as head of a production company,he made and played endless endlessly the samurai. Never one to shirk responsibility, he brought his samurai into television as cinema waned. But age and the burden of keeping his emotions pent up, had its toll in heavy drinking and fast cars and scandal which broke up his marriage. And then alzheimer claimed him and he died at 77 in 1997. Now gone these almost 20 years, Okazaki brought him back to us and it is hoped to a younger generation of film enthusiasts who could do no better than to see Mifune's films.