Mifune: The Last Samurai Makes Japan Premiere at KIFF
The first day of The Kyoto International Film And Art Festival saw the Japan premiere of the hotly anticipated documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai at the Yoshimoto Gion Kagetsu theater. The picture pays tribute to legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune and features interviews with such film luminaries as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Already slated to get theatrical release in the US, Germany and France among others, the film is the highest profile documentary about a Japanese actor ever. It’s sure to enlighten younger generations about the immense talent, and far-reaching influence, of Toshiro Mifune.
Mifune is hugely important in film history not only because he was a seminal actor but also because he was also crucial to creating the ‘Golden age’ (some say the second ‘Golden Age’) of Japanese cinema in the 1950s and early 60s. His collaborations with legendary director Akira Kurosawa have had unparalleled importance in world cinema, influencing everyone from Spielberg to George Lucas and Francis Ford Coppola.
The documentary starts out with a short history of Japanese film but really gets rolling once Mifune’s life is discussed and collaborators present their insight into his special abilities and control on film. Few actors, if any, have had his presence, his sheer power, on the silver screen. Though he had supreme natural ability that was not the sole reason he was able to consistently pull of such remarkable performances. He worked at his craft studiously, pushing himself to become even better. In Rashomon, a breakthrough film for him, Kurusawa, and Japanese cinema (it received the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival, the first Japanese film to win 1st prize at one of the world’s top three film festivals), Mifune studied the movements of lions in the wild to capture the feeling of a trapped or aggressive animal. He was not only brilliant at delivering his lines, he had a special ability to express anger or joy with his body, as opposed to his dialog or facial expressions. His physicality and the use of his body sets hi apart from other superb actors, putting him in a class by himself.
Koji Yakusho, probably currently Japan’s most famous actor (and a recipient of the Best Actor award at the Cannes Film Festival), gives the best explanation of how Mifune merged with his roles to create a transcendent result. Mifune often played samurai and he came to embody the samurai spirit, using that intense spirit to inform his acting.
The film is a leap forward in revealing Japanese cinema to international audiences and closer to home the Kyoto crowd was deeply moved by the account of the renowned Japanese actor. Mifune’s legend will no doubt continue to grow.