Mifune: The Last Samurai (Steven Okazaki, 2016): Japan

Reviewed by Nelson Roosendahl. Viewed at AFI Film Fest 2016.

Mifune: The Last Samurai is a documentary exploration of the career and life of Toshiro Mifune, the legendary star of mid-century Japanese cinema. The film tells the story of Mifune’s life in and out of film. It includes a wealth of archival footage, much of it representing an overview of the great Japanese samurai films that changed world cinema and influenced the repertoire of Italy’s Sergio Leone and, no doubt, Hollywood Westerns.

Aside from its focus on Mifune himself, the film gives great insight into his long working relationship with Akira Kurosawa, for whom he starred in 16 films over two decades, from Drunken Angel (1948), through Rashomon (1950) and Seven Samurai (1954), and culminating with Red Beard (1965). There is a recognition by those interviewed that Kurosawa would have been diminished without Mifune, and vice-versa, a revelation to this reviewer, as Mifune’s identity tends to be less well-known and Kurosawa is ubiquitous. Again, this seems to connect to the work of Sergio Leone, who had as his indispensable muse Terence Hill or Clint Eastwood over a period of works.

It was a pleasure to take a history trip through the world of the Japanese cinema of Mifune and Kurosawa’s films, and the life of Mifune as a Japanese film star, in this film.

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