MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI shines a light on both the man and the actor, director and producer in Steven Okazaki’s fascinating biopic of the legend of Japanese cinema Toshiro Mifune (1920-1997). Enlivened by archive footage and reminiscences from family, friends and collaborators such as the actress Kyoko Kagawa and Kanzo Uni, a sword-fight choreographer who took him through his paces.
The documentary chronicles Mifune’s childhood after his birth in Tsingtao China, through to his early career in the film business and his longtime partnership with Akira Kurosawa and the string of masterpieces they made together: Throne of Blood, Seven Samurai, Rashomon and Red Beard, and also those with Hiroshi Inagaki such as Samurai Saga and Machibuse .
The film provides a fascinating history of Japanese samurai cinema and also highlights Mifune’s private life and the things he enjoyed, such as cars and alcohol, often together. Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg also give their two penny worth, Spielberg talks about the similarity between the Western tradition and the Samurai culture “Film is the single language on this planet that makes us all the same”, he also describes Mifune’s extraordinary sense of stillness and commanding emotional power. Scorsese comments on the very real danger of the stunts he undertook, and the tense atmosphere on set during a Kurosawa shoot.
Off set, Mifune was a colossal star and idol who enjoyed the highlife and Spielberg talks of his keen sense of humour despite his dour roles. As a producer he worked on Masaki Kobayashi’s Samurai Rebellion (and also starred) and set up a film studio which made successful mainstream titles. Toshiro Mifune was clearly a mercurial maverick whose influence still resonates throughout world cinema. MT