best film:   There is room for discussion here between Rashomon, Seven Samurai and High and Low. All three prime candidates are from Akira Kurosawa of course – it is hard to mention Toshirô Mifune or Kurosawa without mentioning the other. If Seven Samurai is the strongest, it is not by much – and these three films are all towering masterpieces. For Seven Samurai, the narrative structure is broken into pretty clear thirds, the gathering up of the samurai, the training and time at the village, and the epic battle. The film has thirty (30) stunning compositions at least, an early use of slow-motion, and masterful use of the long or medium-long action shot. After the big three films listed above, The Bad Sleep Well is a no brainer masterpiece as well. No auteur made a better use of wide frame. All four films feature Mifune at his peak powers.


Seven Samurai is an ensemble film just by the nature of it (it is in the damn name) – so there is almost no accounting for just how much Mifune stands out. And the rest of the performances are outstanding – so that statement is no slight on them. Mifune is just a bat out of hell – it is impossible to take your eyes off him which is actually almost in contrast to the way Kurosawa devised the visual scheme of the film with his ensemble compositions – haha. There is such rich complexity to Mifune’s character He is an outsider to both parties – but also an intermediary – calling out each side for their bull. Kurosawa very rarely goes to the close-up at all, but is smart to go to here in a few cases during Mifune’s monologues. He has such fervor, mixing in laughter, yelling, yet being very physical. He is half Jerry Lewis physical comedian and half Klaus Kinski screaming his face off  in Burden of Dreams.


best performance:  Seven Samurai wins out in this category here. Mifune is everything all at once – brooding, emotional and volatile. This may be the textbook example of screen presence. In his career, Mifune would later go on to be brilliant in more, stoic John Wayne or Clint Eastwood (one precedes Mifune, and one comes after) like figures in the late 1950s and 1960s (there is a reason Yojimbo influenced Fistful of Dollars, Sergio Leone and Eastwood) but here (and Rashomon) Mifune is a wild man – fully animated and open.


stylistic innovations/traits:   Mifune has twenty-one (21) archiveable films and fifteen (15) are with Akira Kurosawa. It could be argued that this is too heavy a dependence on the great auteur – but just stop and look at the work they did together. Those fifteen (15) films include four (4) easy masterpieces and another 3-4 films just a half-step or step below. Mifune and Kurosawa clearly fed off each other. In Mifune, Kurosawa had a star, a leading man, a magnet for the camera – and a screen presence to rival any in film history. Toshirô Mifune could exude tough masculinity like Humphrey Bogart. He could do comedy like Cary Grant – and emotion like Marlon Brando. Mifune is a tour de force in two of the best films of all-time. Lastly, speaking of range, take the role of Takashi Shimura in Seven Samurai – there is no doubt that Mifune could have taken that role (especially in latter years) and triumphed there as well.



He is more than solid in Stray Dog and Drunken Angel before this – but 1950 is his breakout and Rashomon is Mifune’s revelatory performance. His performance is big, bold, primal – he is a sensation in one of the best films of all-time – just blowing everyone else off the screen.


 directors worked with: Akira Kurosawa (15) and their work together feels unparalleled, Hiroshi Inagaki (2), Kenji Mizoguchi (1), John Frankenheimer (1), Masaki Kobayashi (1)


High and Low – Mifune plays Gondo – a business executive who lives in a house on a hill.  He is extremely intense– a perfect Mifune vehicle – one of his best performances and he is in less than half the film.


from Yojimbo here – Mifune has such confidence and swagger- a nonchalance almost that he absolutely can pull off. The “we’ll need two coffins, better make that three” feels damn near close to the first action hero one-liner that would pervade the genre in the back half of the 20th century (if it is not this, maybe it is the Duke saying “that’ll be the day” in The Searchers just a few years before. Mifune is commanding – the anti-hero – just like Bogart before him and Paul Newman and others after him. Lines like “I’m smarter when I drink”. He is playing a cat and mouse game of strategy and Mifune is always the smartest guy in the room.



top ten performances:

  1. Seven Samurai
  2. Rashomon
  3. Yojimbo
  4. High and Low
  5. Throne of Blood
  6. Samurai Rebellion
  7. Sanjuro
  8. The Bad Sleep Well
  9. Red Beard
  10. Stray Dog


from 1957’s Throne of Blood – the final siege of the castle and Mifune’s performance is clearly the film’s finest moment. At 92 minutes Mifune is overlooking the men and it is one of Kurosawa’s single finest frames and sequences with foreground/background work. Jaw-droppingly beautiful. Then his speech and a barrage of arrows.


archiveable films

1948- Drunken Angel
1949- Stray Dog
1950- Rashomon
1950- Scandal
1951- The Idiot
1952- Life of Oharu
1954- Samurai 1: Musashi Miyamoto
1954- The Seven Samurai
1955- Ikimono no kiroku
1957- The Lower Depths
1957- Throne of Blood
1958- Hidden Fortress
1958- Rickshaw Man
1960- The Bad Sleep Well
1961- Yojimbo
1962- High and Low
1962- Sanjuro
1965- The Red Beard
1966- Grand Prix
1967- Samurai Rebellion
1971-Red Sun