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Mifune's salary

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    Do we have any information about how much Mifune was paid for appearing in Yojimbo, Sanjuro, High and Low or Red Beard?

    I was thinking about Dodesukaden and the question why Mifune didn’t appear in it, or in any Kurosawa film after Red Beard. Considering that Dodesukaden was made as such a low-budget film (for Kurosawa’s standards anyway), could it be that Mifune was simply too expensive for the production? It must also be noted that the cast included very few Kurosawa regulars in general.

    Continuing with this thought, Dersu Uzala would obviously not have had a role for Mifune (whatever the Russians thought), and so by the time of Kagemusha it would have been 15 years since their previous collaboration. At that point, does it become a hurdle rather than an advantage for the director to be reunited with a past leading man? Mifune at the time was doing Shogun anyway, and perhaps wasn’t quite at the top of his game any longer in terms of his acting (although it is difficult to say — Kurosawa seemed to get things out of him that other directors couldn’t).

    This leaves the question why Mifune wasn’t in Kurosawa’s 1968 cast for Tora! Tora! Tora!? Galbraith (453-454) suggests that one possible reason is that Mifune had already appeared in the lead role in Toho’s Admiral Yamamoto (1968), which was made to cash in with the publicity surrounding Tora! Tora! Tora!. Not perhaps the smartest move from Mifune, if he was hoping for a role in Kurosawa’s part of the war film.

    Just thinking aloud here.



    I could only offer a bit of a guess.

    Actors were still contracted to the studio and rented to the production. The actors received a cut of what the studio charged for them, so their cost is more to do with the studio they are contracted to then the actor. The biggest Hollywood actors were taking in $50,000 in the 1950’s, with the studio asking maybe double that price.

    Prices in Hollywood however are greatly inflated over what the rest of the world was paying, largely due to the market share, and popularity worldwide the rest of the world didn’t have.

    By averaging what some of the bigger European actors were making, Mifune is unlikely to exceed $10-15,000 tops, and even that I think is a bit high to include for the Japanese, and wouldn’t be surprise with salary being closer to $3-5,000 in the earlier days. The studios outside Hollywood usually didn’t make profit from production, so likely made only a small percentage on his contract, resulting in a total cost that should enable to enlist him for all Kurosawa movies.

    Things may of change nearing the late 60’s, were a select few of actors were starting to break away from being studio items to rent for production, into independent stars. Around this time, actors are getting hundreds of thousands of dollars, up to the millions towards the 70’s, even at times grabbing a bit of the backend profits. I don’t however thing this ever really developed fully outside Hollywood, and even today isn’t nearly extreme as Hollywood paying out $10-30 million with backend profits.

    More then likely 60s-70s Japan remained under the older model from the 50’s resulting in Mifune not making more then what inflation would allow. I guess at Dodesukaden’s time, Mifune at best could ask $50,000 and was still tied to some sort of studio commission, or the studio selling Mifune.

    I don’t think any Asian or Europeans star became too costly for any production housed under a medium to large studio. Dodesukaden make fit into a small studio production, but it was comprised of big names, so still not seeing Mifune’s cost a likely issue.

    However, you have to question the percentage of production budget Mifune would consume, over his marketability. I’m not sure any actor was able to carry a movie alone by his name, a factor that seems only existing in the over-glorification of movie stars in the 90’s to 00’s. Therefore, if Dodesukaden due to it’s low cost had to considered the cost of Mifune over his returns, to which was likely not enough to warrant his cost, even if he could be afforded-assuming Mifune not being involve was a money issue.

    An attempt to answer the question, would lead me to: Dodesukaden had the ability to afford Mifune, but his percentage of production cost would likely discourage his use. Not knowing how Japanese studios and actors operate, this assumes that Japan is still using the models of old Hollywood and some of Europeans models at the time. Therefore not allowing Mifune the luxury to be independent and charge to his liking, be it more or less depending on total production cost and his desire to be involved.

    I’m not entirely happy with what I wrote, and it’s properly very erroneous, but we’re thinking aloud right ? 😆

    I have nothing to offer on the remaining questions.



    I’ve often what Mifune got for Mizoguchi’s ‘Life of Oharu‘. He is given joint billing with Kinuyo Tanaka despite the fact that his sole appearance is as a picture on a locket!



    Actually Ugetsu, Mifune acts in the film at the start…and subsequently gets killed within mere minutes of screentime. Given the billing, along with his star status, I was surprised that he was used for such a character to begin with. Perhaps he was used just for that; to surprise the audience.



    If you look at Oharu carefully, Ryan, you’ll see the actor playing the ‘Mifune’ character at the beginning is not actually Mifune! He only appears in the scene where Mifune’s face is superimposed over the statue (sorry, not on a locket as I said). This is what Joan Mellen says about the scene in The Waves at Genji’s Door:

    Oharu enters a Buddhist Temple of the Rakans, filled with statues of life sized monks, each with a unique and individualised visage. Mizoguchi pans these figures until Oharu’s eyes focus on one face, which dissolves to that of the actor Toshiro Mifune, meant to remind Oharu of the first man who loved her. A flashback now removes us to 1686, when Oharu’s story properly begins, and she is a very young woman attached to the court. The irony is that once we enter the flashback, the young man who loves Oharu, a page at the Old Imperial Palace, is not played by Mifune at all. Many years later she remembers him as a man much more handsome, vital, and energetic than he really was, one of the tricks life plays on lonely women. Her error is recorded by the camera without comment and in the understated manner that has made Mizoguchi one of the greatest directors in the history of world cinema.



    Thanks for the responses!

    Jeremy: Mifune is unlikely to exceed $10-15,000 tops, and even that I think is a bit high to include for the Japanese, and wouldn’t be surprise with salary being closer to $3-5,000 in the earlier days.

    Well reasoned, Jeremy. I did some digging in Galbraith’s biography, and on page 361 he notes that “even big stars like Mifune typically earned less than $5,000 per picture”. So, quite spot on.

    Jeremy: Things may of change nearing the late 60’s, were a select few of actors were starting to break away from being studio items to rent for production, into independent stars.

    Indeed, that is exactly what Mifune did with his Mifune Productions, founded in 1962. Unfortunately, I cannot find any information on how this affected his asking price, apart from a suggestion that by marketing himself independently, he opened doors to the rest of the world, able to enjoy close to Hollywood wages for the pictures that he shot abroad. Whether this affected what he asked for a domestic picture is unclear.

    Galbraith does note, however, that Kurosawa advised Mifune against going independent, possibly fearing that it might be more difficult to use him in his pictures. (362)



    Ugetsu: Interesting. I saw a poor quality version of the film on YouTube, and from that the actor looked incredibly like Mifune. Does he in fact look very similar? Or did the poor quality copy of the film deceive me completely? :p



    Hi Ryan, so far as I know the actor just looks similar. I was very puzzled when I first saw it, I kept thinking ‘where’s Mifune?’ Then I saw the cast list on imdb with Mifune listed as Oharu’s lover and assumed that I’d just been mistaken. His gestures and voice are a little Mifune-like. So far as I can work out the actor wasn’t listed in the credits (at least not the English language ones).

    I do wonder though if Mellens interpretation is correct or (as I suspect) it was just a rather sleazy trick by the studio to get a hot male star on the movie posters on what was considered an uncommercial film (it was a personal project of Mizoguchi, part of a deal he did with the studio in exchange for doing some genre films). Current research on Mizoguchi indicates that his films were far more influenced by the studios and commercial concerns than his western fans realised.



    A lucky guess then, as I really have no idea how wages were worked, or how studios operated with their actors in the past, information was rarely publicized.

    There was a time where a lot of the actors that separated themselves from the studio were getting black-listed. I wonder if this was Kurosawa’s concern when Mifune went independent. I don’t however know the details of the black-list or if it ever spread into Asia. However the effects were somewhat wide spread in Europe, and American studios still wanted actors controlled by a localized studios even when brought to an American production. Some reason I believe was Hollywood studios were buying up European studios, so to have foreign actors as the gimmick in their movie. Largely this was with the French, as musicals and love stories grew popular in America, the idea of having them contain French actors seemed to be a magical money-maker. With the actors stuck under studio control, the American studios could more or less force them into whatever movie they wanted them in, while too regulating pay. To my knowledge the attempt to legitimatize the black-list and prevent actors from going independent, the list claimed to contain actors having ties, or sympathetic to communism, fascism, militarism, oppose to the list being exposed for what it was largely for-revenge.

    To compare Europe and Japan as working under similar ideas maybe rather wrong. I do believe the Japanese cinema modeled the American studios, but for the most part was able to avoid some the major pitfalls regarding the inner-workings of them. Whatever the case, going independent could likely cause serious issues for Kurosawa to ever see Mifune, if Kurosawa experienced the weight of Japanese studios. This issue being more the problem of studio’s possible negative rapport with an independent actor, rather then price.

    Once again, I’m just thinking aloud, and have no knowledge if anything I said is even close to truth, or possibility.

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