TOSHIRO MIFUNE Biography - Actors and Actresses


Biography » actors and actresses » toshiro mifune


Name: Toshiro Mifune                                                                                                     
Born: 1 April 1920 Qingdao, China                                                                                       
Died: 24 December 1997 Mitaka, Japan                                                                                     
Toshiro Mifune (1 April 1920 - 24 December 1997) was a Japanese actor who appeared in almost 170 feature films.         
Toshiro Mifune was born in Qingdao, China, to Japanese parents, and grew up in                                           
the Chinese city of Dalian with his parents and two siblings. In his youth,                                             
Mifune worked in the photography shop of his father Tokuzo, a commercial                                                 
photographer and importer who had emigrated from northern Japan.                                                         
Tokuzo was a Methodist, and there is evidence that he was also a missionary,                                             
ministering to the ethnic Japanese Christians in Dalian.                                                                 
Although the young Toshiro spent the first 19 years of his life in China, as a                                           
Japanese citizen he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Air Force, where he                                           
served in the Aerial Photography (Ko-type) unit during the Second World War. He                                         
repatriated to Japan in 1946.                                                                                           
In 1947, one of Mifune's friends who worked for the Photography Department of                                           
Toho Productions suggested Mifune try out for the Photography Department. He was                                         
accepted for a position as an assistant cameraman. However, the union was                                               
affiliated with the Communist party, which made Mifune, a religiously                                                   
conservative man, very uncomfortable.                                                                                   
At this time, a large number of Toho actors, after a prolonged strike, had left                                         
to form their own company. The studio organized a "new faces" contest to find                                           
new talent. Mifune's friends submitted an application and photo, without his                                             
knowledge. He was accepted, along with 48 others (out of roughly 4000 applicants),                                       
and allowed to take a screen test for Kajiro Yamamoto. Instructed to mime anger,                                         
he drew from his wartime experiences, delivering such a powerfully authentic                                             
performance that the testers feared he would be too arrogant and troublesome to                                         
work with. Fortunately, however, Yamamoto took a liking to Mifune, recommending                                         
him to director Senkichi Taniguchi. This led to Mifune's first feature role, in                                         
Shin Baka Jidai.                                                                                                         
One of Mifune's fellow performers, one of the 32 women chosen during the new                                             
faces contest, was Sachiko Yoshimine. Eight years Mifune's junior, 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. Mifune was doubly an                                             
outsider, being a non-Buddhist as well as a native Manchurian. His choice of                                             
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 Kurosawa, convinced the                                             
Yoshimine family to allow the marriage. It took place in February of 1950. In                                           
November of the same year, their first son Shiro was born. In 1955, they had a                                           
second son, Takeshi. Mifune's daughter Mika was born to his mistress, actress                                           
Mika Kitagawa, in 1982.                                                                                                 
His imposing bearing, acting range, facility with foreign languages and lengthy                                         
partnership with acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa made him the most famous                                             
Japanese actor of his time, and easily the best known to Western audiences. He                                           
often portrayed a samurai or ronin, who was usually coarse and gruff (Kurosawa                                           
once explained that the only weakness he could find with Mifune and his acting                                           
ability was his "rough" voice), inverting the popular stereotype of the genteel,                                         
clean-cut samurai. In such films as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, he played                                                 
characters who were often 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 highly valued Mifune for his effortless portrayal of unvarnished                                               
emotion, once commenting that he could convey in only three feet of film an                                             
emotion that would require the average Japanese actor ten feet.                                                         
On the other hand, his portrayal of Musashi Miyamoto in Hiroshi Inagaki's                                               
Samurai Trilogy is deliberately made to become the epitome of samurai honour and                                         
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. To prepare for Seven Samurai and Rashomon, Mifune reportedly                                               
studied footage of lions in the wild; for Ánimas Trujano, he studied tapes of                                           
Mexican actors speaking, so he could recite all his lines in Spanish. In his                                             
earliest film roles in English like Grand Prix, made in 1966, he learned his                                             
lines phonetically. This met with limited success and his voice was often dubbed                                         
by Paul Frees. By the time he made Red Sun in 1971 he had become somewhat more                                           
proficent in the language and his voice is heard throughout this multinational                                           
western. He was always disappointed that he did not have a larger career in the                                         
West. His most prominent English-language role was probably playing Admiral                                             
Isoroku Yamamoto in Midway.                                                                                             
Early in the development of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, director George                                           
Lucas reportedly considered Mifune for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi.                                                       
He had played an analogous role (General Rokurota) in The Hidden Fortress, a                                             
film greatly admired by Lucas. Its plot and characters have some parallels that                                         
Lucas carried into his first Star Wars film.                                                                             
Mifune has been credited as originating the "roving warrior" archetype, which he                                         
perfected during his collaboration with Kurosawa. Clint Eastwood was among the                                           
first of many American actors to adopt this persona, which he used to great                                             
effect in his Western roles, especially the spaghetti westerns made with Sergio                                         
Most of the sixteen Kurosawa–Mifune films are considered cinema classics. These                                       
include Rashomon, Stray Dog, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, High and Low,                                           
Throne of Blood (an adaptation of Shakespeare's MacBeth), Yojimbo, and Sanjuro.                                         
(See filmography, below)                                                                                                 
Mifune and Kurosawa finally parted ways after Red Beard. Several factors                                                 
contributed to the rift that ended this career-spanning 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. This put Mifune and his financially strapped                                         
production company deeply into debt, creating friction between him and Kurosawa.                                         
Although Red Beard played to packed houses in Japan and Europe, which helped                                             
Mifune recoup some of his losses, the ensuing years held varying outcomes for                                           
both Mifune and Kurosawa. After the film's release, the careers of each man took                                         
different arcs: Mifune continued to enjoy success with a range of samurai and                                           
war-themed films (Rebellion, Samurai Assassin, the Emperor and a General, among                                         
others). In contrast, Kurosawa's output of films dwindled and drew mixed                                                 
responses. During this time, Kurosawa apparently attempted suicide. In 1980,                                             
Mifune experienced popularity with mainstream American audiences through his                                             
role as Lord Toranaga in the television miniseries Shogun. Yet Kurosawa did not                                         
rejoice in his estranged friend's success, and publicly made derisive remarks                                           
about Shogun.                                                                                                           
Early in the 1980s, Mifune founded an acting school, Mifune Geijutsu Gakuin.                                             
The school failed after only three years, due to mismanaged finances.                                                   
Mifune received wider audience acclaim in the West than he ever had after                                               
playing Toranaga in the 1980 miniseries Shogun. However, the series'                                                     
historically accurate yet blunt portrayal of the Japanese shogunate and the                                             
greatly abridged version shown in Japan meant that it was not as well received                                           
in his homeland. It deepened the rift with Kurosawa, virtually ensuring that                                             
they would not work together again.                                                                                     
The relationship between the two men remained ambivalent. While Kurosawa made                                           
some very uncharitable comments about Mifune's acting, he also admitted in an                                           
interview in Interview magazine that 'all the films that I made with Mifune,                                             
without him, they would not exist.' He also presented Mifune with the Kawashita                                         
award which he himself had won two years prior. They finally made something of a                                         
reconciliation in 1993 at the funeral of their friend Ishiro Honda. After making                                         
tenuous eye contact, they tearfully embraced one another, ending nearly three                                           
decades of mutual avoidance. They never collaborated again, however, nor did                                             
they have a chance to restore their friendship fully. Both died within a year of                                         
the other.                                                                                                               
In 1992, Mifune began suffering from a serious health problem, the exact nature                                         
of which is not fully known. It has been variously suggested that he destroyed                                           
his health with overwork, suffered a heart attack, or experienced a stroke. For                                         
whatever reason, he abruptly retreated from public life and remained largely                                             
confined to his home, cared for by his estranged wife Sachiko. When she                                                 
succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1995, Mifune's physical and mental state began                                         
to decline rapidly.                                                                                                     
He died in Mitaka, Japan, of multiple organ failure at the age of 77.