Krell Laboratories: Dynamic Duos: Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune
Irreconcilable differences / A fascinating account of Mifune and Kurosawa's artistic partnership and split To this end Galbraith read everything. Most of the sixteen Kurosawa–Mifune films are The relationship between the two men remained ambivalent. Critic Mark Jenkins says a new documentary focused on Toshiro Mifune's relationship with director Akira Kurosawa could have used a bit more.
It's almost as if Mifune provides a catalyst that Shimura does not, though, to be fair, Drunken Angel is as much Shimura's film as it is Mifune's. Shimura's drunken doctor is the central viewpoint of the film; Mifune's tubercular gangster is the main object of his gaze. Mifune is immediately a movie star as soon as he appears in this film: When Mifune was on the screen all eyes turned to him.
Even late in his career, when in character parts he became a kind of samurai elder statesman, he compelled the audience's attention. Such is movie star charisma. For his own part, Kurosawa begins to formulate the elements of his own cinematic anima.
The plot, in which Shimura's doctor tries to save Mifune's gangster as much from himself as from tuberculosis has elements that later find their way into Ikiru a man trying to make meaning for himself before time runs outSeven Samurai a wise older man attempts to save a younger man from himselfand Rashomon in which a bandit has hidden depths. It's also the first of three movies that Kurosawa made about doctors.
The second of those films, The Quiet Duel, recasts Mifune himself as the doctor and doubles up on his character by making him the victim of an incurable disease in this case, syphilis. In the third doctor film, Red Beard, Mifune assumes the role of the older doctor.
It's in the switch between gangster and doctor in Drunken Angel and The Quiet Duel and between youth and experience between those two and Red Beard that we begin to see why Mifune became so integral to Kurosawa's films. Kurosawa's major themes are epistemological: You see this most famously in Rashomon, with its competing versions of reality, and in Kagemusha, with its doppelganger, but you see it in more subtle ways in his other films, too.
In Seven Samurai, deception is a recurring motif among both the samurai and the peasants. In High and Low, the film's famous ending blurs the line between rich man and poor, hero and villain, as they reflect each other.
In Yojimbo, the eponymous anti-hero spins a complicated web of lies. An early manifestations of this can be seen at the end of Drunken Angel, when two men become so covered in paint in the course of fighting each other that their identities are obscured.
This idea is taken a step further in Stray Dog, in which the cop protagonist and crook antagonist become so covered in dirt in the fight at the end of the movie that distinctions between them become meaningless. If this were true, he would have been useless to Kurosawa.
Kurosawa required and got a chameleon, an actor who could play an ambitous young man in Scandal and a mad old man in I Live In Fear within the span of half a decade. It didn't hurt that Mifune had the screen presence of a movie star.
The film that best demonstrates what Kurosawa needed and got from Mifune is Rashomon. Later in life, Mifune was said to cringe at his performance in Rashomon.
He thought it too broad and too buffoonish, but that's only part of the character. The last sequence, in which the ghost retells the events of the story, requires Mifune play the role as restrained, and he delivers. He delivers in every avatar of the character the film presents, from rapacious bandit to braggart to reluctant witness.
His performance is really several performances, each distinct from each other. This carries over to Mifune's career with Kurosawa as a whole. Kurosawa wasn't above using Mifune in his capacity as a movie star. A careful student of John Ford, Kurosawa understood the power of mythmaking and indulged in it himself. In Mifune, he had his John Wayne and he built Mifune's movie star myth around him.
My own personal favorite instance of this is at the beginning of The Bad Sleep Well. We're first introduced to Mifune's character as an anonymous groom at a corporate wedding, but when we're introduced to his character, if you catch my drift, Kurosawa pulls out the stops and has Mifune descend into the film from the summit of an active volcano.
There are basically three groupings of films in which Kurosawa and Mifune collaborated. There's a broad thematic range among these movies and hugely varied performances by Mifune. These movies tend to be more experimental than the director's more famous films. One is an adaptation of Dostoyevsky. One is in the style of American film noir. One dwells in the shadow of the atomic bomb.
What these films have in common is a director who is still feeling out his themes.
Toshirō Mifune - New World Encyclopedia
Stray Dog is the the best of these films, but each of them has its pleasures. Scandal is perhaps the slightest of them, but it's a film that's completely smitten with the idea of Toshiro Mifune as a leading man. The Idiot is one of the great murdered movies, having been cut down by over an hour to its present running time.
I Live In Fear is one of the director's most underrated films, one soaked in nightmares of atomic destruction. Of the films Mifune starred in for Kurosawa, it's the only one where the actor is a poor fit.
The second grouping consists of the samurai movies: These are the films that come to mind when the name of either Kurosawa or Mifune is mentioned. Seven Samurai incorporates more subtle experiments in time and perception.
The way the film uses the elements--particularly its climactic rainstorm--is endlessly creative, too, adding a level of complexity to the images on screen that's absent in other contemporary actions films. Throne of Blood sees the director drawing more heavily from a theatrical tradition, too, with its kabuki theater witch. By contrast, The Hidden Fortress was conceived as pure entertainment.
Visually, it's the most conventional of Kurosawa's samurai films, but for the fact that its Kurosawa's first film in widescreen. Thematically, it's a departure. Kurosawa isn't known as a director of comedies, after all, but The Hidden Fortress is light and frothy in comparison to the other films the director was making at the time. Apparently, he had a taste for it, because Yojimbo is as cynical a comedy as you're likely to find. These films chart a kind of evolution for Mifune as an actor and as a movie star.
In the first two samurai films, he's a bandit, a hyperactive buffoon. In Throne of Blood, he's an ambitious warlord, ruthless and without honor. In The Hidden Fortress, he's a wise and world-weary soldier. And in the Yojimbo diptych, he's cynical and philosophical. The end of Sanjuro has the final word on Mifune as a samurai: As a matter of performance, Mifune goes from the hyperactive histrionics of his character in Rashomon to the quiet, laconic menace of Yojimbo.
As an aside, the character arc of Mifune's screen image in these movies is replicated in Hiroshi Inagaki's contemporaneous Samurai Trilogy, in which Miyamoto Musashi goes from callow youth to wise samurai in the course of three movies. It's not an accident that outside of Kurosawa's films, Miyamoto is arguably Mifune 's best-known part he played him four times. The third grouping consists of more assured dramas: In some ways, these four films are a reworking of the duo's early films.
Red Beard is their third "doctor" movie. High and Low echoes American film noir a la Stray Dog. The Bad Sleep Well is another look at the machineries of then-contemporary Japan as filtered through Shakespeare.
These films are deeper and more resonant while maintaining the younger Kurosawa's restless experimentation with form. My favorite of these experiments is the way High and Low is structured: The first half of the movie is tightly contained within the house of Mifune's embattled shoe tycoon. It's a microcosm where the thorny moral dilemma of how to respond to the mistaken kidnapping of his chauffeur's son can be contained and concentrated.
When the film then opens up into Tokyo itself, it's a jarring tonal shock. The inclusion of a single shot in color--in which red smoke rises from a smokestack--is another striking formal experiment, though a subtle one. By contrast, The Lower Depths keeps all of its action in a single location, echoing its roots on the stage, while visually placing everything at the very bottom of the world.
It never opens up.
'Mifune' Can't Quite Capture A Screen Legend
Inthis friend helped him get a position as an assistant cameraman in the Photography Department of Toho Productions. The studio employees belonged to a union affiliated with the Communist party, which made Mifune, a religiously conservative man, very uncomfortable. The studio organized a "new faces" contest to find new talent. Mifune's friends submitted his application and photo, without his knowledge.
He was accepted, along with 48 others out of roughly 4, applicantsand allowed to take a screen test for Kajiro Yamamoto. Later, Mifune said about his audition: I said, 'Why should I laugh?
They said, 'Get out. Kurosawa attended the afternoon audition. Instructed to mime anger, Mifune drew from his wartime experiences. The judges were doubtful, but Kurosawa recalled, in his autobiography, "A young man was reeling around the room in a violent frenzy…. I found this young man strangely attractive. Yamamoto took a liking to him, and recommended him to director Senkichi Taniguchi. In he received critical acclaim for his role as the gangster in Kurosawa's box-office success, Yoidore tenshi Drunken Angel.
Eight years younger than Mifune, she came from a respected Tokyo family. They fell in love and Mifune soon proposed marriage. Yoshimine's parents were strongly opposed to the union.
- Toshirō Mifune
Mifune was an outsider, a non-Buddhist as well as a native Manchurian. His profession also made him suspect, as actors were generally assumed to be irresponsible and financially incapable of supporting a family. Director Senkichi Taniguchi, with the help of Akira Kurosawaconvinced the Yoshimine family to allow the marriage. It took place in February of In November of the same year, their first son Shiro was born.
Inthey had a second son, Takeshi. Mifune's daughter Mika was born to his mistress, actress Mika Kitagawa, in Rashomon was a box-office failure in Japan, and neither Kurosawa or Mifune knew that it had been submitted to the Venice Film Festival. In Japan, their success received almost no publicity. Rashomon was the first Japanese film to make an impact in the West, and achieved global recognition for both Kurosawa and Mifune.
In his memoir, Something Like an Autobiography, Kurosawa wrote of him: It was, above all, the speed with which he expressed himself that was astounding. The ordinary Japanese actor might need ten feet of film to get across an impression; Mifune needed only three.
The speed of his movements was such that he said in a single action what took ordinary actors three separate movements to express. He put forth everything directly and boldly, and his sense of timing was the keenest I had ever seen in a Japanese actor.
And yet with all his quickness, he also had surprisingly fine sensibilities. Kurosawa once explained that the only weakness he could find with Mifune and his acting ability was his "rough" voice.
In films such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, he played characters who were comically lacking in manners, but replete with practical wisdom and experience, understated nobility, and, in the case of Yojimbo, unmatched fighting prowess. Sanjuro, in particular, contrasts this earthy warrior spirit with the useless, sheltered propriety of the court samurai. Kurosawa valued Mifune highly for his effortless portrayal of unvarnished emotion. On the other hand, his portrayal of Musashi Miyamoto in Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy is deliberately the epitome of samurai honor and etiquette.Sanjuro (1962) — The Final Samurai Showdown
Mifune was famous for his self-deprecating sense of humor, which often found its way into his film roles. He was renowned for the effort he put into his performances. Mifune and Kurosawa Most of the sixteen Kurosawa—Mifune films are considered cinema classics. See filmography, below Mifune once said of Akira Kurosawa, "I am proud of nothing I have done other than with him. Mifune starred in Kurosawa's adaptations of three Western literary classics: Mifune and Kurosawa parted ways after the filming of Red Beard.
Several factors contributed to the rift that ended their collaboration. Most of Mifune's contemporaries acted in several different movies throughout the year. Since Red Beard required Mifune to grow a natural beard—one he had to keep for the entirety of the film's two years of shooting—he was unable to act in any other films during the production.