mifune_last_samurai_2Year: 2016
Director(s): Steven Okazaki
Writer(s): Stuart Galbraith IV, Steven Okazaki
Region of Origin: US

Rating: Unrated
Black and white, Color, 80 mins

Synopsis: A feature-length documentary about the life and films of legendary actor Toshiro Mifune, weaving together film clips, archival stills, and interviews with such luminaries as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Narrated by Keanu Reeves. (Source)

Toshiro Mifune is one of the most legendary actors to ever grace the silver screen. His 16 collaborations with director Akira Kurosawa ensured their pairing as one of the greatest in film history. Now, in his documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai, director Steven Okazaki paints a picture of who Mifune was, not only as an actor and businessman but as a person. The film gathers actors Terumi Niki, Teruyo Nogami, Yoko Tsukasa, as well as filmmakers Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese (among others) to discuss the legend and his influence on cinema.

The film itself is divided into segments, using Mifune’s work to delineate each period in his life. Most notably, Okazaki takes us through Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and The Samurai Trilogy. From there we get to hear first hand experience of what it was like to work with the man, including words from frequent co-star Kyoko Kagawa, remembering him as being very intense but also kind. Taking us through each film, memories of Mifune come from those who were close to him during each production, but also crew members, such as the stuntmen he worked with. A great deal of fondness and admiration is shared by actor Haruo Nakajima – a stuntman best remembered for playing Godzilla in 1954, and who worked with Mifune in Seven Samurai. Each interview serves as a reminder of the bygone era that was Japan’s golden period. Many of the actors who starred alongside Mifune are no longer alive, but the few that are share rich history and love for the era. The filmmakers pay particularly close attention to actor Takashi Shimura, as he took in the young Mifune, acting as a mentor and father figure to him.

mifune_last_samurai_1It’s impossible to touch on every major aspect of Mifune’s life, but the documentary makes it a point to acknowledge that it’s not well known why his collaboration with Kurosawa suddenly ended. Publicly, the two had a falling out over the amount of time and commitment to which Mifune had to sacrifice to shoot the film Red Beard (filming lasted for the length of a year, which resulted in Mifune and his production company falling into deep debt) nor makes mention of Kurosawa’s attempted suicide during a dry spot in which his films were box office bombs. Respecting all parties involved goes a long way and Okazaki handles the subject sensitively. Perhaps for the better, the film consciously chooses to look at both men’s body of work in a positive manner. Interestingly enough – in life as in death, Kurosawa and Mifune are inseparable. The film is as much about Akira Kurosawa as it is about Toshiro Mifune.

Mifune: The Last Samurai will serve as a must for anyone wanting to learn about the actor and for cinephiles in general. Okazaki takes a loving approach and remembers not only the man but his larger than life persona as well. Mifune was a man who loved his family, drinking, and fast cars, a perspective shown here that contrasts with the hard, gruff exterior that Japan’s biggest movie star had for many years. At a short 80 minutes, the film will leave you yearning for more and yet at the same time feel fulfilling.