best film:  Seven Samurai reigns supreme but Rashomon has shot up my list over the last decade. The sheer ambition and size of The Seven Samurai edges out the narrative genius of Rashomon but they’re very close (and both marvelous to look at)—Samurai is at #14 on my list and Rashomon is #21. Both films are from Kurosawa of course and feature Mifune on the top of his game. He’s hilarious and impulsive. Yojimbo and Throne of Blood (yet again Mifune collaborations with Kurosawa) are strong candidates for this category but aren’t quite to the level of these two touchstones and landmarks of cinema art. Outside the world of Kurosawa, Life of Oharu is an excellent film.

best performance: Seven Samurai again is victorious here but we have a new #2 in this category and that’s Throne of Blood. Mifune in Seven Samurai proves himself worthy of the class of 50’s method actors like Clift, James Dean and the Godfather himself, Marlon Brando (and this in the same year as On the Waterfront). Mifune is brooding, demonstrative and unpredictable. It’s impossible to take your eyes off of him on the screen. He’d go on to be a wonderful more stoic John Wayne or Eastwood figure in the late 50’s and 60’s (there’s a reason Yojimbo influenced Fistful of Dollars/Eastwood) but here (and Rashomon) he’s a wild man- fully expressive.

stylistic innovations/traits: Mifune had 16 films in the archives and made 11 of them with Kurosawa. I’ll get to more on that collaboration below but unlike Wayne who had the Red River performance as his #2 working with someone other than John Ford– the top 4 performances from Mifune are for sure from the important work Mifune did with Kurosawa. They fed off each other and in Mifune, Kurosawa had a beacon of light, a screen presence you couldn’t take your eyes off of who could do macho like Bogart, comedy like Cary Grant, and could do passionate acting like Brando. He’s electric in two of the best 25 films of all-time, there’s enough depth in the filmography (ok not on the level of most of the others in the top 10 but unlike Mastroianni or Chaplin it’s incredibly easy to fill out his top 10 performances). I think the greatest compliment I could pay Mifune is that I think he could have easily paid the Takashi Shimura role in Seven Samurai.

directors worked with:   Kurosawa (11)—Wayne and Ford (Kurosawa often compared to Ford and cites Ford as an influence) made 12 together— clearly this the crux of the resume for Mifune. He says as much himself:  “I am proud of nothing except for my work with Kurosawa.” Mifune did work with Inagki (2) and then once with Mizoguchi and Kobayashi—enough for sure (and he’s great in these films as well) to prove to doubters that he’s no puppet of the great auteur.

Top 10 Performances:

  1. Seven Samurai
  2. Throne of Blood
  3. Rashomon
  4. Yojimbo
  5. High and Low
  6. Samurai Rebellion
  7. Red Beard
  8. Sanjuro
  9. The Hidden Fortress
  10. Rickshaw Man

Archiveable films

1948- Drunken Angel
1949- Stray Dog
1950- Rashom0n
1952- Life of Oharu
1954- Samurai 1: Musashi Miyamoto
1954- The Seven Samurai
1957- The Lower Depths
1957- Throne of Blood
1958- Hidden Fortress
1958- Rickshaw Man
1961- Yojimbo
1962- High and Low
1962- Sanjuro
1965- The Red Beard
1966- Grand Prix
1967- Samurai Rebellion