Toshirô Mifune was born 1 April 1920 in Tsingtao (Quindao), China, to Japanese Methodist parents and grew up in Dalian. At the age of 19 he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army Aviation, where he served in the Aerial Photography (Ko-type) unit during WWII. In 1946 he was repatriated to Japan, where he got a job as assistant cameraman at Toho Productions. His colleagues put him in for a screen test and the rest is history. Having made over 150 feature films plus TV work he is the best known Japanese actor in the West, especially for his work with Directors Akira Kurosawa and Hiroshi Inagaki. Nicknamed "The Wolf" and being 5 ft 9 ins tall he had an unfogettable persona. Toshirô Mifune passed in Mitaka city, Tokyo on the 24 December 1997. The list is of my favourite works (including a TV mini-series) of this prolific actor in Chronolgical Order.
A drunken doctor with a hot temper and a violence-prone gangster with tuberculosis form a quicksilver bond. (98 mins.)
“ This was Toshirô's fourth movie and again he was playing a violent gangster, but this time with a twist. In his first movie under the direction of Kurosawa this thug had an Achilles Heel or rather a Chest. Dr. Sanada (Takashi Shimura) convinces him to undergo treatment which is all very well until Mifune's former gang boss returns from jail. Full of powerful performances and social comment about post-war Japan, this was a brilliant start to the relationship between both of the leading actors and their noted director. " The Japanese love to sacrifice themselves for stupid things." - 'Matsunga.' ” - brickley220
The Quiet Duel
A surgeon gets syphilis from a patient when he cuts himself during an operation. The doctor's life is destroyed, but unlike the patient, he doesn't destroy others along with him. (95 mins.)
“ Toshirô moved on from gangster to doctor in this very sensitive story about an Army physician who becomes accidentally infected by one of his patients. Starring alongside his long term acting partner Takashi Shimura, Mifune gives quite a sensitive performance as a man who gives up his whole future in order to be sociably responsible. Again there is that subliminal message to the Japanese audience about the after effects of war. "I must let you find a man more worthy of you." - 'Dr. Kyoji Fujisaki.' ” - brickley220
During a sweltering summer, a rookie homicide detective tries to track down his stolen Colt pistol. (122 mins.)
“ Once again Mifune is paired with Takashi Shimura (Detective Sato) by director Kurosawa in a story about teamwork. Mifune is a cop, desperate to find his service automatic pistol after it has been stolen by a pickpocket. He is not having much luck until the older, more streetwise Saro offers to help him. Some of the scenes are quite desolate as we witness the two good guys at work in post WWII Tokyo. To see why the movie is called 'Stray Dog' you will have to watch the film to its bitter and violent end. "Bad luck can make a man or destroy a man." - 'Detective Murakami.' ” - brickley220
A heinous crime and its aftermath are recalled from differing points of view. (88 mins.)
“ In this classic film which earned cult status overseas and was later turned into a Western by Hollywood; three men are discussing the trial of a local bandit (Mifune) for murdering a Samurai and then raping the man's wife. The story is told in flashbacks from three points of view and consequently there are three seperate versions of the event. The film demonstrates an early use of hand held cinematographry and innovative lighting tecniques. The Western was 'The Outrage' and starred Paul Newman. "Man just wants to forget the bad stuff, and believe in the made-up good stuff. It's easier that way." - 'Tajômaru.' ” - brickley220
A poor village under attack by bandits recruits seven unemployed samurai to help them defend themselves. (207 mins.)
“ Famous for inspiring the Hollywood Epic 'The Magnificent Seven' this is more than just another Japanese Black & White Movie by Kurosawa. In this film Mifune and Shimura have honed their relationship to the sharpness of the keen edge of a Katana. Again there is innovation in the photography and use of rain as the Samurai and the beleagured villagers earn each others mutual respect. "The farmers have won. We have lost." - 'Kikuchiyo." ” - brickley220
Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto
Depicts the early life of the legendary warrior Musashi Miyamoto; his years as an aspiring warrior, an outlaw and finally a true samurai. (93 mins.)
“ This is the first part of a trilogy of Mifune's character learning the way of the Samurai Warrior under the direction of Hiroshi Inagaki. Part II (Duel at Ichijoji Temple) and Part III (Duel at Ganryu Island) follow the development of the title character until the final showdown in Part III. Whilst each episode is a feature film by itself I would recommend that you see all three, in sequence, to fully appreciate the journey of the legendary warrior. "Brace up, Akemi." - 'Musashi Miyamoto.' ” - brickley220
Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple
Musashi Miyamoto returns to Kyoto after years of absence. After a series of fights against the Yoshioka School, he challenges its master to a duel. (104 mins.)
“ Returning to Kyoto to fight a duel, the warrior stirs up the past and meets the love of his life who has waited for him over many years. He wins the fight(s) but leaves without the girl. "This is not necessary, honour has been satisfied already." - 'Musashi Miyamoto (Tazeko).' ” - brickley220
Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island
Musashi Miyamoto is challenged to a duel by a confident swordsman Sasaki Kojiro. He agrees to fight him in a year's time. (105 mins.)
“ Our hero is now living the simple life, rejecting his previous career, and turning down a lucrative offer from the Shogun. Then the two women in his life turn up to be with him and share his peasant lifestyle. But once a warrior..... when a bunch of Bandits start trouble in the local village, Mifune finishes it. He then catches a row boat to meet his nemesis for the grand finale on the island. "Brace up, Akemi." - 'Musashi Miyamoto (Tazeko).' ” - brickley220
Throne of Blood
A war-hardened general, egged on by his ambitious wife, works to fulfill a prophecy that he would become lord of Spider's Web Castle. (110 mins.)
“ If you have ever seen 'Macbeth' you will realise that Kurosawa has borrowed the plot from 'The Bard of Avon' for this masterpiece of regicide and treachery. Mifune and his companion Yoshiteru Miki (Akira Kobo) get lost in foggy Cobweb Forest and meet a strange woman who predicts great things in the future for the two warriors. Mifune confides in the wife (Isuzu Yamada) and we are off on 100 minutes or so of murder and mayhem with a fantastic finale. "Admirable, my Lord. You, who would soon rule the world, allow a ghost to frighten you." - 'Taketori Washizu.' ” - brickley220
The Hidden Fortress
Lured by gold, two greedy peasants escort a man and woman across enemy lines. However, they do not realize that their companions are actually a princess and her general. (139 mins.)
“ Another Kurosawa black and white legend about the inter-clan wars in medieval Japan, where two failed peasant soldiers, Tahei and Matakishi help Mifune and his young female companion to escape to friendly territory with a great treasure. The two hours and 19 minutes pass easily as the oriental Abbott and Costello transit a series of obstacles including a 'Fire Ceremony' to help the battling Mifune and his regal charge Princess Yuki (Misa Uehara) fight their way across the screen. Apparently the movie inspired George Lucas to make 'Star Wars'. "Hide a stone among stones and a man among men." - 'General Rokurota Makabe.' ” - brickley220
A crafty ronin comes to a town divided by two criminal gangs and decides to play them against each other to free the town. (110 mins.)
“ Mifune plays a wandering samurai arriving in a beleagured town in nineteenth century Japan. Learning from the innkeeper that the town is divided between two gangs, he plays one off against the other. If you have seen 'Fistful of Dollars' or 'Last Man Standing' and the plot seems familiar that is because they both had their origins in this marvellous tale of mercurial, mercenary, mayhem. "I'll get paid for killing, and this town is full of people who deserve to die." - 'Sanjuro Kuwabatake/ The Samurai.' ” - brickley220
A crafty samurai helps a young man and his fellow clansmen save his uncle, who has been framed and imprisoned by a corrupt superintendent. (96 mins.)
“ Mifune's roaming ronin encounters a group of keen young men who want to end the corruption in their town. He mentors them into engaging the evil officials without totally destroying themselves in the process.
Lots of intrigue and sword play as the group try to clean up the town, shorter than Yojimbo with a darker and more involved plot, Mifune is still magnificent as he trips through the town wielding justice in his hands. "If it sounds to good to be true it usually is." - 'Sanjûrô Tsubaki/ The Samurai.' ” - brickley220
In 19th century Japan, a rough tempered yet charitable town doctor trains a young intern. (185 mins.)
“ This was the last film in which Akira Kurosawa directed Mifune and in some ways this three hour, black and white masterpiece is one of the best of their collaboration collection. Mifune a senior doctor agrees to take on a young intern, who being from a good family is not too impressed with the arrangement made by his father.
However as the rite of passage proceeds through a collection of patients from purgatory, the young, handsome Dr. Noboru Yasumoto (Yûzô Kayama) learns how valuable human decency and respect for patient's dignity is when practicing medicine. "The pain and loneliness of death frighten me. But Dr. Niide looks at it differently. He looks into their hearts as well as their bodies." - 'Dr. Kyojô Niide/ Red Beard.' ” - brickley220
Hell in the Pacific
During World War II, an American pilot and a marooned Japanese navy captain are deserted on a small uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean. There, they must cease their hostility and cooperate if they want to survive, but will they? (103 mins.)
“ Directed by John Boorman and filmed with two different endings, one is quite abrupt whereas the alternative was more in keeping with the tone of the movie. This is an unusual war movie as two marooned combatants, one Japanese (Mifune) and one American (Lee Marvin) eventually work together for mutual survival. This theme was later repeated in the sci-fi movie 'Enemy Mine' starring Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett Jnr., but not quite to the excellent standard that these two WWII veterans achieved in this gritty and emotive tale of survival in the Pacific Ocean. "Oh, for a second I thought you were a Jap." - 'Captain Tsuruhiko Kuroda.' ” - brickley220
Impersonating an Imperial Army officer by wearing a "red lion's mane", a poor servant returns to his... (115 mins.)
“ In this Japanese version of 'Barry Lyndon', Mifune dresses as an officer to return to his home town and settle a few scores while he is about it. His village is full of eccentric characters, both goodies and baddies who get treated accordingly by Mifune. I shall not spoil the ending but I think it is sufficient to say that this is NOT a story by Hans Christian Andersen. Indeed it is more like 'The Muppets' meet 'Kill Bill' in an excellent final act. "Why me! What have I done to deserve this?" - 'Gonzo.' ” - brickley220
In the Edo period, a nameless ronin accepts an assignment to go to a mountain pass and wait. Near the... (117 mins.)
“ Mifune returns to being an unemployed Ronin who gets offered a contract, but when he finds that the real job is to murder innocent witnesses at an inn, where a robbery is to take place, he is unhappy about the task. The plot thickens and as his honour is now at stake, the Samurai warrior has to make some important and deadly decisions. Even darker and more cerebral than Sanjuro, Mifune shows that he is a master of his craft and the film is a fitting finale to the director, Hiroshi Inagaki's career. "I cannot do what you ask of me." - 'The Yojimbo.' ” - brickley220
The Japanese ambassador is traveling through the Wild West by train, when gangsters hold up the train... (112 mins.)
“ Mifune joins forces with Link Stuart (Charles Bronson) to recover a magnificent sword, stolen from the Japanese Ambassador, which was a gift for the President of the USA, from the Mikado of Japan.
Directed by Terence Young (of James Bond fame) this French/ Italian/ Spanish (Garlic/ Spaghetti/ Paella) Western is a good example of two excellent actors (both of whom were in movies about seven heroes) working their socks off in this Samurai Swashbuckler. Alain Delon is the villain of the piece, whilst Ursula Andress and Capucine provide the Femme Fatales in this East meets Wild West tale, apparently based upon a true story. "You cannot kill Gauche, I need him to tell me where my gold is!" - 'Kuroda Jubie.' ” - brickley220
A somewhat prim and proper Englishman is hired as the tutor to the son of the Japanese ambassador. His life changes when he and the boy are kidnapped by terrorists for political purposes. (99 mins.)
“ Already on my David Niven list, it was a pleasure to include Toshirô Mifune's performance in this little known story about a tutor called 'Major' Walter Bradbury (Niven) who is engaged by a Japanese Ambassador (Mifune) to look after his son Koichi (Ando). The boy hero worships his tutor who is full of anecdotes about his military service. The 'Major' then has his chance to be a hero when terrorists kidnap the boy and him to use as collateral in a negotiation with the Japanese Government. The film was directed by Ken Annakin (Battle of the Bulge and lots of Disney) and was a cross between 'A Man On Fire' and 'Treasure Island'. Nevertheless the performances of Niven, Mifune and Hardy Kruger were excellent. "My Little Friend" - 'Ambassador Kagoyama.' ” - brickley220
A dramatization of the battle that was heralded as the turning point of the Pacific Theatre of World War II. (132 mins.)
“ This two hours plus historical drama appears to be an attempt to tell the story of the decisive battle in the same style as its predecessor 'Tora, Tora, Tora'. It consists of many cameo appearances by some of the most famous pensioners in Hollywood and some stock colour footage from WWII. Although his performance is dubbed Mifune still holds the screen whenever his character appears on it. It is a 'must see' movie because the story was true, about a lot of men who sacrificed themselves to turn the tide of the war in Pacific. "Leave that to me, I am the only one who must apologize to His Majesty." - 'Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto.' ” - brickley220
A English navigator becomes both a player and pawn in the complex political games in feudal Japan. (60 mins.)
“ Based very closely upon James Clavell's bestselling book, the reason I liked this series when it appeared on the BBC was that in no time I was able to understand Japanese. Like all the best movies the characters spoke their native language and as the central character, English ship's pilot John Blackthorne (Richard Chamberlain) had to learn Japanese, the audience did so at the same time. Mifune played the Lord of the title and his bearing on screen left nobody in any doubt as to who the boss was. Now the proud owner of the series on DVD I watch it on an Annual basis and like a fine wine, I never tire of it.
"Sad, isn't it? Not being able to trust anyone."
"It is not sad, Anjin-san. It is just one of life's most important rules."
- 'Lord Yoshi Toranaga.' ” - brickley220
Princess from the Moon
Based on a centuries-old traditional Japanese fairy tale, a country couple finds a baby girl in some bamboo and raises her as their own daughter... (121 mins.)
“ I first saw this little gem on a rental DVD in 2008 and now have my own copy. Based upon a Japanese folk tale, this beautiful little story lies somewhere between Tom Thumb, The Princess Bride, E.T. and Solaris. Mifune shows how he can play a simple person as well as a Samurai Lord in this mystic movie that mixes Disney with Arthur C. Clarke to produce a unique story which is sci-fi mixed with soy sauce. "Stay With Me" - 'Taketori-no-Miyatsuko.' ” - brickley220