samurai candles

Jesse Marinoff Reyes:

Last week we looked at 24 Akira Kurosawa film posters on the occasion of his 102 nd birthday, with many of the posters featuring his star, Toshiro Mifune. Today, we look at Toshiro Mifune on what would have been his 92 nd birthday (with many films directed by Kurosawa). Well, they did 16 films together and they ranged from great, to really great to absolutely transcendent.

Famous for his gruff Ronin roles, Mifune’s range was not limited to Samurai—from a painter in Scandal, to a stressed and extorted executive in High and Low, to a WWII Japanese soldier in Hell in the Pacific, or even a two-bit hoodlum dying of tuberculosis in Drunken Angel or a committed surgeon to the poor in Kurosawa’s magnificent Red Beard, Mifune was a gifted and epic performer. Kurosawa said it himself after watching Mifune for the first time auditioning for another director (a role he did not get), “I am a person rarely impressed by actors… But in the case of Mifune I was completely overwhelmed.” He later said Mifune “could convey in only three feet of film an emotion for which the average Japanese actor would require ten feet.”


High and Low (Tengoku to Jigoku), 1963 (Japan).

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Like Kurosawa’s Shakespeare interludes Throne of Blood and Ran, High and Low has Shakespearean construction and symbology, however it is also a true crime-style kidnapping thriller—loosely adapted from Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct police procedural, King’s Ransom. Mifune is the wealthy executive with everything at stake and Tatsuya Nakadai costars as chief detective Tokura.


Red Beard (Akahige), 1968 (Japan)

Directed by Akira Kurosawa. Hugh Laurie’s “House” bears some lineage to Mifune’s very grumpy doctor, “Akahige.” Not your typical medical melodrama either…!

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Hell in the Pacific, 1968 (U.S.A.)

Directed by John Boorman. Two men marooned on a uninhabited island in the Pacific, one American, one Japanese—during the war—forced to cooperate in order to survive. Critics point out this may have been the best of Mifune’s films outside of Japan. Also interestingly, Lee Marvin served in the Pacific with the Marines during WWII, where he was wounded and received the Purple Heart. Mifune also served during the war in the Imperial Japanese Air Force. I can only imagine what the conversations were like during lunch breaks…


Red Sun, 1971 (U.S.A.)

Directed by Terence Young (U.K.). An international film, with production credits going to Italy, France and Spain—with Mifune (Japan), Charles Bronson (U.S.A.), Ursula Andress (Swiss), and Alain Delon (France) in the feature roles. A Western action film, and rather diverting.

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