Few director-actor collaborations were more prolific, and none more defining of each artist’s respective body of work, than that of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Sixteen of Kurosawa’s 30 films featured Mifune. Kurosawa made some of the most lavish and meticulous films in Japanese history, films that gave birth to a particular notion of Japaneseness in the West, while, ironically, these films proved controversial in Japan for their degree of Western influence. (In this case we can use “Western” both as region and genre: the closest analogue to the Kurosawa-Mifune relationship is that of John Ford and John Wayne, whose westerns, with their stoicism, spectacle and humanistic values, share interesting similarities with the Kurosawa-Mifune period films.) Mifune was likewise a global emblem of Japanese masculinity, yet the actor was born in Manchuria, and never set foot in Japan until he was 20. The director and actor—or as Stuart Galbraith dubs them in the title of his double-biography, the Emperor and the Wolf—died less than nine months apart in 1997 and ’98, like a couple unable to bear life without the other, though they hadn’t made a picture together since 1965. Their fascinating body of work is explored in Metro’s Spotlight on Akira Kurosawa & Toshiro Mifune.
Curiously, of the three films Metro has selected only one features Mifune as star; of course, nobody could possibly imagine Rashomon (1950) or Seven Samurai (1954) without him. The former, based on stories by Ryūnosuke Akutagawa and famous for its unresolved ambiguities, is set in the 11th century and has Mifune play a bandit accused of murder. Moments in Rashomon find Mifune at his most hysterical, yet his control over his craft is indisputable when you examine the range of his performance in the conflicting versions of the same events provided during the inquest. In the latter, one of the great epics, Mifune plays a cocky young warrior hired, along with six other ronin, to protect a village from a much larger group of bandits. The evolution of Mifune’s character over the course of Seven Samurai is thrilling, funny and heartbreaking.
Throne of Blood (1957) transplants Macbeth to feudal Japan with Mifune as the fierce warrior doomed by ambition. The film’s Noh-inspired stylistics jive with Mifune’s expressiveness. His descent into madness and climactic transformation into a human pincushion make for one of the most riveting and magical Shakespeare adaptations on film.
Thu, Aug 14 – Sun, Aug 31
Spotlight on Akira Kurosawa & Toshiro Mifune
Metro Cinema at the Garneau