A beginner’s guide to Toshiro Mifune
1 April 2021
2 April 2021
One I would’ve included would be Keigo Kimura’s Life of a Horse-Trader (1951). An excellent film, and especially fun for Kurosawa fans since it reunites Mifune, Takashi Shimura, and Machiko Kyo — playing radically different roles than their characters in Rashomon.
I must confess I’ve never liked Sword of Doom (1966) as much as most people — and as far as Mifune’s collaborations with director Kihachi Okamoto go, would probably favor something like Samurai Assassin (1965) or even a modest little action picture like The Big Boss (1959).
While it’s not a great movie overall, I often think about Keisuke Kinoshita’s Wedding Ring (1951) as an example of what Mifune could do in a sentimental drama. He also had a secondary but memorable role in Ishiro Honda’s Good Luck to These Two (1957), about young Japanese following their hearts and marrying against the wishes of their parents.
Alas, most of the films I mentioned haven’t been given especially broad releases. Samurai Assassin was released on DVD in 2005 by AnimeEigo, but it’s long out of print and probably not cheap to come by these days. Criterion has Wedding Ring, but only for their streaming platform, which I believe is still limited to U.S. subscribers only.
3 April 2021
Thanks for the recommendations, Patrick! There’s a couple there that I haven’t seen but will definitely seek out if availability allows.
8 April 2021
Shadow of the Wolf looks both cheesy and very interesting! I’d never heard of that film.
I must admit I haven’t seen too many non-Kurosawa Mifune films, but my favourite performances are his early ones, when he was at his most handsome – like Stray Dog and Drunken Angel, even if he hadn’t yet learned that sometimes less is more (as he did brilliantly in Red Beard).
I could be cheeky and mention his performance in The Life of Oharu. He was high billed in the film but only appears in a very brief flashback as the womans dead husband. I can only assume there was a contractual/commercial reason for this. I’ve heard it suggested that he was used to illustrate how years after her husbands death, he had grown in Oharu-san’s mind from a fairly ordinary guy into something much more handsome.
10 April 2021
Shadow of the Wolf is quite cheesy indeed. I think they aimed for Dances with the Wolves, but ended up… umm… a mere shadow of it? If I recall correctly, it was the most expensive Canadian film ever made at the time, with a very uneven end result, and one that would most likely raise eyebrows today because of to the racial stereotypes and cultural appropriation that it promotes.
It’s a shame as there could have been potential for more considering the people that were involved: Mifune, Lou Diamond Phillips and Donald Sutherland in front of the camera, with Billy Williams who won an Oscar for Gandhi behind it and Maurice Jarre providing the score. But somehow it just didn’t come together. Well, the script was quite bad and apparently the production lagged on for years as well.
I actually found a copy of the film on YouTube. Mifune’s performance is… well, you can judge it for yourself. Mifune speaking English is of course fun, even if it is obviously dubbed. I’m not sure if it’s even Mifune himself speaking, now that I listen to it. I know Paul Frees was the voice of Mifune in many of his earliest English language films.
But it’s a special performance in that it was Mifune’s last major film role. In the two films that he appeared after Shadow of the Wolf, he only played minor parts.
It kind of also teases the question: what would Mifune’s Dersu Uzala have been like?
Far Out Magazine has published an article titled Six definitive films: A beginner’s guide to Toshiro Mifune, which lists what they consider the six essential films with Toshirō Mifune.
Do you agree with their list?
When I was thinking about my favourite Mifune performances, somehow the early 90s Shadow of the Wolf came to mind. It was a fairly minor film if I recall correctly, and I haven’t seen it for close to thirty years, but for some reason I remember it very fondly.