Toshiro Mifune – detail from poster of the film Scandal (1950)
April 1, 1920
|Died||December 24, 1997
Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan
(1950–1995; her death)
Toshiro Mifune (三船 敏郎 Mifune Toshirō?, April 1, 1920 – December 24, 1997) was a Japanese actor who appeared in almost 170 feature films. He is best known for his 16-film collaboration with filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, from 1948 to 1965, in works such as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and Yojimbo. He also portrayed Musashi Miyamoto in Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy, as well as Lord Toranaga in the NBC TV miniseries Shōgun.
Toshiro Mifune was born on 1 April 1920 in Tsingtao, Shandong, China to Japanese parents. His parents were Methodist missionaries who were then working in China. Mifune grew up with his parents and, later, two younger siblings in Dalian, Liaoning, China and, from 4 to 19 years of age, in Manchuria, when the Mifune family moved.
In his youth, Mifune worked in the photography shop of his father Tokuzo, a commercial photographer and importer who had emigrated from northern Japan. After spending the first 19 years of his life in China, as a Japanese citizen, he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army Aviation division, where he served in the Aerial Photography unit during World War II.
In 1947, one of Mifune's friends who worked for the Photography Department of Toho Productions suggested Mifune try out for the Photography Department. He was accepted for a position as an assistant cameraman.
At this time, a large number of Toho actors, after a prolonged strike, had left to form their own company, Shin Toho. Toho then organized a "new faces" contest to find new talent. Mifune's friends submitted an application and photo, without his knowledge. He was accepted, along with 48 others (out of roughly 4000 applicants), and allowed to take a screen test for Kajiro Yamamoto. Instructed to mime anger, he drew from his wartime experiences. Yamamoto took a liking to Mifune, recommending him to director Senkichi Taniguchi. This led to Mifune's first feature role, in Shin Baka Jidai.
Mifune first encountered director Akira Kurosawa when Toho Studios, the largest film production company in Japan, was conducting a massive talent search, during which hundreds of aspiring actors auditioned before a team of judges. Kurosawa was originally going to skip the event, but showed up when an actress he knew told him of one actor who seemed especially promising. Kurosawa later wrote that he entered the audition to see "a young man reeling around the room in a violent frenzy...it was as frightening as watching a wounded beast trying to break loose. I was transfixed." When an exhausted Mifune finished his scene, he sat down and gave the judges an ominous stare. He promptly lost the competition. Kurosawa, however, had found his muse. "I am a person rarely impressed by actors," he later said. "But in the case of Mifune I was completely overwhelmed."
One of Mifune's fellow performers, one of the 32 women chosen during the new faces contest, was Sachiko Yoshimine. Eight years Mifune's junior, she came from a respected Tokyo family. They fell in love and Mifune soon proposed marriage.
Yoshimine's parents were strongly opposed to the union. Mifune was doubly an outsider, being a non-Buddhist as well as a native Manchurian. His choice of profession also made him suspect, as actors were generally assumed to be irresponsible and financially incapable of supporting a family.
Director Senkichi Taniguchi, with the help of Akira Kurosawa, convinced the Yoshimine family to allow the marriage. It took place in February 1950. In November of the same year, their first son, Shirō was born. In 1955, they had a second son, Takeshi. Mifune's daughter Mika was born to his mistress, actress Mika Kitagawa, in 1982.
Period of prosperity
His imposing bearing, acting range, facility with foreign languages and lengthy partnership with acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa made him the most famous Japanese actor of his time, and easily the best known to Western audiences. He often portrayed samurai or ronin who were usually coarse and gruff (Kurosawa once explained that the only weakness he could find with Mifune and his acting ability was his "rough" voice), inverting the popular stereotype of the genteel, clean-cut samurai. In such films as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, he played characters who were often comically lacking in manners, but replete with practical wisdom and experience, understated nobility, and, in the case of Yojimbo, unmatched fighting prowess. Sanjuro in particular contrasts this earthy warrior spirit with the useless, sheltered propriety of the court samurai. Kurosawa highly valued Mifune for his effortless portrayal of unvarnished emotion, once commenting that he could convey in only three feet of film an emotion for which the average Japanese actor would require ten feet.
Mifune was famous for his self-deprecating sense of humor, which often found its way into his film roles. He was also renowned for the effort he put into his performances. To prepare for Seven Samurai and Rashomon, Mifune reportedly studied footage of lions in the wild; for Ánimas Trujano, he studied tapes of Mexican actors speaking, so he could recite all his lines in Spanish. In his earliest film roles in English like Grand Prix, made in 1966, he learned his lines phonetically.
Mifune has been credited as originating the "roving warrior" archetype, which he perfected during his collaboration with Kurosawa. His martial arts instructor was Yoshio Sugino of the Tenshin Shōden Katori Shintō-ryū. Sugino-sensei created the fight choreography for films such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, and Kurosawa instructed his actors to emulate his movements and bearing.
Clint Eastwood was among the first of many actors to adopt this wandering warrior persona for foreign films, which he used to great effect in his Western roles, especially the Spaghetti Westerns made with Sergio Leone, where he played a similar character to Mifune's role in Yojimbo. Mifune may also be credited with originating the Yakuza archetype, with his performance as a mobster in Kurosawa's Drunken Angel (1948), the first Yakuza film.
Most of the sixteen Kurosawa–Mifune films are considered cinema classics. These include Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, High and Low, Throne of Blood (an adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth), Yojimbo, and Sanjuro. (See filmography, below)
Mifune and Kurosawa finally parted ways after Red Beard. Several factors contributed to the rift that ended this career-spanning collaboration. Most of Mifune's contemporaries acted in several different movies throughout the year. Since Red Beard required Mifune to grow a natural beard — one he had to keep for the entirety of the film's two years of shooting — he was unable to act in any other films during the production. This put Mifune and his financially strapped production company deeply into debt, creating friction between him and Kurosawa. Although Red Beard played to packed houses in Japan and Europe, which helped Mifune recoup some of his losses, the ensuing years held varying outcomes for both Mifune and Kurosawa. After the film's release, the careers of each man took different arcs: Mifune continued to enjoy success with a range of samurai and war-themed films (Rebellion, Samurai Assassin, The Emperor and a General, among others). In contrast, Kurosawa's output of films dwindled and drew mixed responses. During this time, Kurosawa attempted suicide. In 1980, Mifune experienced popularity with mainstream American audiences through his role as Lord Toranaga in the television miniseries Shogun. Yet Kurosawa did not rejoice in his estranged friend's success, and publicly made derisive remarks about Shogun.
Later life and death
Mifune received wider audience acclaim in the West than he ever had after playing Toranaga in the 1980 TV miniseries Shogun. However, the series' blunt portrayal of the Japanese shogunate and the greatly abridged version shown in Japan meant that it was not as well received in his homeland.
The relationship between Kurosawa and Mifune remained ambivalent. While Kurosawa made some very uncharitable comments about Mifune's acting, he also admitted in an interview in Interview magazine that "All the films that I made with Mifune, without him, they would not exist". He also presented Mifune with the Kawashita award which he himself had won two years prior. They finally made something of a reconciliation in 1993 at the funeral of their friend Ishirō Honda. After making tenuous eye contact, they tearfully embraced one another, ending nearly three decades of mutual avoidance. They never collaborated again, nor did they have a chance to restore their friendship fully. Both died within a year of the other.
In 1992, Mifune began suffering from a serious unknown health problem. It has been variously suggested that he destroyed his health with overwork, suffered a heart attack, or experienced a stroke. For whatever reason, he abruptly retreated from public life and remained largely confined to his home, cared for by his estranged wife Sachiko. When she succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1995, Mifune's physical and mental state began to decline rapidly.
Mifune was awarded the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon in 1986 and the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Japanese government in 1993. In 1973 he was a member of the jury at the 8th Moscow International Film Festival. In 1977 he was a member of the jury at the 10th Moscow International Film Festival.
Of Akira Kurosawa, Mifune said, "I am proud of nothing I have done other than with him".
|“||Mifune had a kind of talent I had never encountered before in the Japanese film world. It was, above all, the speed with which he expressed himself that was astounding. The ordinary Japanese actor might need ten feet of film to get across an impression; Mifune needed only three. The speed of his movements was such that he said in a single action what took ordinary actors three separate movements to express. He put forth everything directly and boldly, and his sense of timing was the keenest I had ever seen in a Japanese actor. And yet with all his quickness, he also had surprisingly fine sensibilities. – Akira Kurosawa, Something Like an Autobiography.||”|
Due to variations in translation from the Japanese and other factors, there are multiple titles to many of Mifune's films (see IMDB link). The titles shown here are the most common titles used in the United States.
- 1947 Snow Trail
- 1947 These Foolish Times Parts 1 & 2
- 1948 Drunken Angel
- 1949 The Quiet Duel
- 1949 Jakoman and Tetsu
- 1949 Stray Dog
- 1950 Escape at Dawn
- 1950 Conduct Report on Professor Ishinaka
- 1950 Scandal
- 1950 Engagement Ring
- 1950 Rashomon
- 1951 Beyond Love and Hate
- 1951 Elegy
- 1951 The Idiot
- 1951 Pirates
- 1951 Meeting of the Ghost Après-Guerre
- 1951 Conclusion of Kojiro Sasaki-Duel at Ganryu Island as Musashi Miyamoto
- 1951 The Life of a Horsetrader
- 1951 Who Knows a Woman's Heart
- 1952 Vendetta for a Samurai
- 1952 Foghorn
- 1952 The Life of Oharu
- 1952 Jewels in our Hearts
- 1952 Swift Current
- 1952 The Man Who Came to Port
- 1953 My Wonderful Yellow Car
- 1953 The Last Embrace
- 1953 Love in a Teacup
- 1953 The Eagle of the Pacific
- 1954 Seven Samurai
- 1954-56 Samurai Trilogy
- 1954 The Sound of Waves
- 1954 The Black Fury
- 1955 A Man Among Men
- 1955 All Is Well Part 1 & 2
- 1955 No Time for Tears
- 1955 Record of a Living Being aka I Live in Fear
- 1956 Rainy Night Duel
- 1956 The Underworld
- 1956 Settlement of Love
- 1956 A Wife's Heart
- 1956 Scoundrel
- 1956 Rebels on the High Seas
- 1957 Throne of Blood aka Spider Web Castle
- 1957 A Man in the Storm
- 1957 Be Happy, These Two Lovers
- 1957 Yagyu Secret Scrolls Part 1
- 1957 A Dangerous Hero
- 1957 The Lower Depths
- 1957 Downtown
- 1958 Yagyu Secret Scrolls Part 2
- 1958 Tokyo Holiday
- 1958 Muhomatsu, The Rikshaw Man
- 1958 The Happy Pilgrimage
- 1958 All About Marriage - uncredited cameo
- 1958 Theater of Life
- 1958 The Hidden Fortress
- 1959 Boss of the Underworld
- 1959 Samurai Saga
- 1959 The Saga of the Vagabonds
- 1959 Desperado Outpost
- 1959 The Birth of Japan
- 1960 The Last Gunfight
- 1960 The Gambling Samurai
- 1960 Storm Over the Pacific
- 1960 Man Against Man
- 1960 The Bad Sleep Well
- 1960 The Masterless 47 Part 1
- 1961 The Story of Osaka Castle
- 1961 The Masterless 47 Part 2
- 1961 Yojimbo aka The Bodyguard
- 1961 The Youth and his Amulet
- 1962 Ánimas Trujano aka The Important Man
- 1962 Sanjuro
- 1962 Tatsu
- 1962 Chushingura: Hana no Maki, Yuki no Maki
- 1963 Dai tozoku aka The Lost World of Sinbad
- 1963 Wings over the Pacific
- 1963 High and Low aka Heaven and Hell
- 1963 Legacy of the 500,000
- 1963 The Great Thief
- 1964 Whirlwind
- 1965 Samurai Assassin aka Samurai
- 1965 Red Beard
- 1965 Sanshiro Sugata
- 1965 Retreat from Kiska
- 1965 Fort Graveyard
- 1966 Wild Goemon
- 1966 The Sword of Doom
- 1966 The Adventure of Kigan Castle
- 1966 The Mad Atlantic
- 1966 Grand Prix
- 1967 Samurai Rebellion
- 1967 The Longest Day of Japan
- 1968 The Sands of Kurobe
- 1968 Admiral Yamamoto
- 1968 Gion Festival
- 1968 Hell in the Pacific
- 1969 Samurai Banners
- 1969 5,000 Kilometers to Glory
- 1969 The Battle of the Japan Sea
- 1969 Red Lion
- 1969 Shinsengumi
- 1970 Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo
- 1970 The Ambitious
- 1970 Incident at Blood Pass
- 1970 The Walking Majo
- 1970 The Militarists
- 1971 Red Sun
- 1975 Paper Tiger
- 1976 Midway
- 1977 Proof of the Man
- 1977 Japanese Godfather: Ambition
- 1978 Shogun's Samurai aka The Yagyu Clan Conspiracy or Intrigue of the Yagyu Clan as Yoshinao Tokugawa
- 1978 Dog Flute
- 1978 Lady Ogin
- 1978 Japanese Godfather: Conclusion
- 1978 The Fall of Ako Castle as Michinao Tsuchiya
- 1978 Lord Incognito
- 1979 Winter Kills
- 1979 The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi
- 1979 Secret Detective Investigation-Net in Big Edo
- 1979 1941
- 1980 The Battle of Port Arthur aka 203 Koichi
- 1981 Bushido Blade as Fukusai Hayashi
- 1981 Shogun
- 1981 Inchon!
- 1982 The Challenge
- 1983 Conquest
- 1983 Theater of Life
- 1983 Battle Anthem
- 1984 The Miracle of Joe Petrel
- 1985 Legend of the Holy Woman
- 1986 Song of Genkai Tsurezure
- 1987 Shatterer
- 1987 Tora-san Goes North
- 1987 Princess from the Moon
- 1989 Demons in Spring
- 1989 Death of a Tea Master
- 1989 cf Girl
- 1991 Strawberry Road
- 1991 Journey of Honor
- 1992 Helmet
- 1992 Shadow of the Wolf
- 1994 Picture Bride
- 1995 Deep River
All shows aired in Japan except for Shogun which aired in the U.S.
- 1968 The Masterless Samurai - 6 one hour episodes
- 1971 Daichūshingura - 52 one hour episodes
- 1972 Ronin of the Wilderness - 104 one hour episodes
- 1973 Yojimbo of the Wilderness - 5 one hour episodes
- 1976 The Sword, The Wind and the Lullaby - 27 one hour episodes
- 1977 Ronin in a Lawless Town - 23 one hour episodes
- 1978 The Spy Appears - 5 one hour episodes
- 1978 An Eagle in Edo - 38 one hour episodes
- 1979 Hideout in a Suite - 11 one hour episodes
- 1980 Shogun - parts 1 & 5 159 minutes parts 2-4 93 minutes
- 1981 Sekigahara - one seven hour episode
- 1981 Bungo's Detective Notes - 3 one hour episodes
- 1981 The Ten Battles of Shingo - 2 one hour episodes
- 1981 My Daughter! Fly on the Wings of Love and Tears - 1 two hour episode
- 1981 The Crescent Shaped Wilderness - 1 two hour episode
- 1982 The Ronin's Path - 5 two hour episodes
- 1982 The Happy Yellow Handkerchief - 1 two hour episode
- 1983 The Brave Man Says Little - 1 eight hour episode
- 1983 The Ronin's Path vol. 5 - 1 one hour episode
- 1983 Ronin-Secret of the Wilderness Valley - 1 one hour episode
- 1984 Soshi Okita, Burning Corpse of a Sword Master - 1 one hour episode
- 1984 The Burning Mountain River - 51 episodes
- James E. Wise Jr.; Scott Baron. International Stars at War. p. 132.
- L'Harmattan web site (in French), Order with gold ribbon
- "8th Moscow International Film Festival (1973)". MIFF. Retrieved 2012-12-25.
- "10th Moscow International Film Festival (1977)". MIFF. Retrieved 2013-01-07.
- Richie, Donald. The Films of Akira Kurosawa. University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-22037-4.
- The Battle of Port Arthur (203 Koshi) in the Internet Movie Database
- Galbraith, Stuart, IV (2002). The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-19982-8.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Toshiro Mifune.|
- Toshiro Mifune: Biographical details and selected filmography at the British Film Institute
- Toshirô Mifune at the Internet Movie Database
- Toshiro Mifune at Find a Grave