best film:  Whether he is front and center (Ikiru, Seven Samurai) or somewhere in the background as part of the ensemble cast (Rashomon, The Bad Sleep Well, High and Low) – the story of Takashi Shimura’s best films has to be told through the prism of Akira Kurosawa. If that was not enough, Shimura’s two Kenji Mizoguchi collaborations are at or near the masterpiece level as well.


Shimura as both the spiritual and literal sturdy center of Seven Samurai. Toshiro Mifune and Shimura are doing at, or near, career best work here. Shimura is the understated hero —a sharp contrast to his slumped over, shadow of a man in Ikiru.


best performance:  Ikiru. Shimura plays Kanji Watanabe and gives one of the better performances of the 1950s. This is often a physical, silent performance, the pained grimace – Shimura’s face as a backdrop – the sloping of the shoulders. Watanabe makes for one of cinema’s greatest character studies – Citizen Kane, Raging Bull – the examination of a man’s life. There is a bit of It’s A Wonderful Life and Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol to it as well. Kurosawa adapted Dostoevsky the year before with The Idiot, but achieves here a work on the level of those novels he clearly admired.


Between Drunken Angel in 1948 and Red Beard in 1965, Ikiru is the only Kurosawa film that does not feature Toshiro Mifune. This is Shimura’s show.


stylistic innovations/traits:  Takashi Shimura worked. Haha. He has 300+ credits (with 23 archiveable films). Still, it is the nineteen (19) archiveable films with Kurosawa that lands him on this list. Shimura often worked alongside Toshiro Mifune. Shimura was fifteen (15) years the senior of Mifune so often played wiser, older men who dispenses patience, gave advice, and was the voice of reason while Mifune played those with high emotion and vitality – especially earlier in his career.  But it is a major tribute to Shimura that is he often hangs right with Mifune. Also, any actor who has a one-two punch like Seven Samurai and Ikiru – has undeniable strength for his resume.


Drunken Angel – the titular character is not Mifune, but Takashi Shimura.  These two actors make for Kurosawa’s Henry Fonda and  John Wayne (even if the Shimura character here more resembles a drunk doctor Thomas Mitchell in Stagecoach-like character) together for the first time, too. They make for great jousting foes – scrapping constantly. Mifune and Shimura both play quick tempered characters and they are mesmerizing. 


directors worked with:  Akira Kurosawa (19), Kenji Mizoguchi (2), Masaki Kobayashi (1). Shimura died in 1982 – or he would have been in Kurosawa’s films like Ran (1985), Dreams (1990), and Mâdadayo (1993).  As it stands, his nineteen (19) with Kurosawa is four (4) more than Mifune – but Mifune undoubtedly has far more total screen time and the lion’s share of the best performances between the two.


from Stray Dogs –  Mifune and Shimura are typically brilliant. Shimura’s relaxed command over the screen is juxtaposed with Mifune’s anxious youth (also riddled with guilt) – again like Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt in Se7en or Lethal Weapon with the volatile rookie and steady-hand veteran pairing. 


top five performances:

  1. Ikiru
  2. Seven Samurai
  3. Stray Dog
  4. Drunken Angel
  5. The Idiot


archiveable films

1936- Osaka Elegy
1943- Sanshiro Sugata
1945- Sanshiro Sugata Part Two
1945- The Men Who Tread on the Tiger’s Tail
1946- No Regrets for Our Youth
1948- Drunken Angel
1949- Stray Dog
1950- Rashomon
1950- Scandal
1951- The Idiot
1952- Ikiru
1952- The Life of Oharu
1954- Godzilla
1954- Seven Samurai
1955- Ikimono no kiroku
1957- Throne of Blood
1958- The Hidden Fortress
1960 The Bad Sleep Well
1961- Yojimbo
1963- High and Low
1964- Kwaidan
1965- Red Beard
1980- Kagemusha