Mifune: Brando & Duke Combined

DATELINE:  Japan’s Superstar Not Named Godzilla



It was said that Japan exported two mammoth stars in the 1950s.  One was Godzilla, and the other was Toshiro Mifune.

As John Wayne was the quintessential Western star with director John Ford, Mifune was the quintessential Samurai star for director Akira Kurosawa.

In the documentary called Mifune: The Last Samurai, with narration by Keanu Reeves, Mifune was the Japanese Wayne with a touch of Brando. What intensity and dedication to art!

From 1950 onward, Mifune gave performances that made art house audiences in the United States jump up and take notice. He was far more influential on American film directors who took plots from Roshomon, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, Throne of Blood, and other classics—and remade them, using the stylized direction and the singular performance of Toshiro.


However much someone might imitate Mifune, no actor actually had his natural angst and tough spirit. Try as they might, Clint and Yul had to avoid copying Mifune. No one could quite catch the look of a man with an arrow through his neck as Toshiro.

He was a hard drinker and hard worker and made over a dozen films with Kurosawa before they parted ways.

His lifestory gives an angle to Japanese life and films that Americans might not know about—and Steven Spielberg offers his insights (working together for the film 1941), as well as two sons of Mifune in recollections.

Toward the end of his life, Mifune went up against Charles Bronson (Red Sun) and Lee Marvin (Hell in the Pacific) as a film antagonist, but his classic films are singular achievements. Though he played mostly samurai warriors and ronin, he showed considerable range as an actor. This documentary gives you a sampler of his talent.