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‘Mifune: The Last Samurai’ (review)


Produced by Toshiaki Nakazawa
Written by Stuart Galbraith IV, Steven Okazaki
Directed by Steven Okazaki
Narrated by Keanu Reeves
Featuring Steven Spielberg, Martin Scorsese,
Teruyo Nogami, Kyoko Kagawa, Yoshio Tsuchiya,
Takeshi Kato, Yoko Tsukasa, Wataru Akashi,
Hisao Kurosawa, Shiro Mifune, Haruo Nakajima,
Sadao Nakajima, Yosuke Natsuki, Terumi Niki


Interesting documentary about the Japanese film star Toshiro Mifune.

The film is  quite informative, at least to someone like me who has enjoyed Mifune’s performances but otherwise knew very little about him.

Mifune: The Last Samurai begins by giving us a brief history of Japanese cinema until around WWII. Most of the early Japanese films were based on Kabuki theater and samurai tales.

As samurai films would be Mifune’s bread and butter, this historical lesson is more than welcome.  Also, we get a glimpse at the surviving footage of a samurai film called Chokon, which looks amazing.

The film then switches gears to cover Mifune’s early life, including his time spent in the military, where he was initially beaten by his superiors on a regular basis because he had a naturally forceful voice and they found it to be inappropriate.

After the war, Mifune wanted to work as a cameraman, but ended up as an actor. His big claim to fame – both artistically and commercially – was landing a major role in Akira Kurosawa’s classic Rashomon, which led to Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and other classics.

Throughout the film, we hear from many people who worked directly with Mifune, including Japanese film star Kyoko Kagawa, who started acting at the same time as Mifune, and Steven Spielberg, who directed Mifune in his comedy, 1941.

Toshiro’s oldest son, Shiro, sheds some light on the elder Mifune’s personal life, while Martin Scorsese offers some interesting insights into Mifune’s (and Kurosawa’s) artistry, including the brilliant, thrilling and (unbeknownst to me) quite dangerous climax to Kurosawa’s take on Macbeth, Throne of Blood.

Scorsese also makes a seemingly heartfelt and perhaps personal comment on the dissolution of Mifune’s and Kurosawa’s creative collaboration. He never says as much, but his face appears to betray that perhaps his comments apply to certain collaboration(s) he’s had in his many films.

One of the many pleasures of the doc is the amount of clips from some terrific (and a smaller amount of not-so-terrific) films Mifune has appeared in throughout his career.  The cumulative effect on me was a boot in the ass to track down some of the films I’ve never seen, such as Red Beard.

I’ll freely admit that the end of the film is lovely and rather moving and got me a tad misty-eyed. Those well-educated about Mifune and his films may be less impressed than I was with the doc, but I can heartily recommend it to general film buffs. Especially ones with little or no knowledge about classic Japanese cinema.

Oh, and Keanu Reeves does a very fine job narrating the film.

Mifune: The Last Samurai is playing in limited release.
For screening dates and locations, visit HERE.


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