MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI
Directed by Steven Okazaki
Official Selection, 2016 Telluride Film Festival
Official Selection, 2016 BFI London Film Festival
Official Selection, 2016 Hawaii International Film Festival
Known as Japanese cinema’s biggest export after Godzilla, Toshiro Mifune blew up as an unlikely international star in the 1950s, not least because he never intended to be an actor to begin with. In the post-war period, when Asian men were stereotyped as buck-toothed dweebs in Hollywood, Mifune managed to burst onto the scene as a magnetic action icon. What he had could not be denied or ignored: a screen charisma made for the close-ups, kinetics, and textures of celluloid. Teamed with the great Akira Kurosawa, he was invincible.
Chronicling Mifune’s life and career is Oscar-winning director Steven Okazaki’s engaging new documentary, which takes us from Mifune’s birth in China to the Venice-winning Rashomon, to Hollywood with films like 1941 and the TV miniseries Shogun. Along the way, Okazaki and narrator Keanu Reeves make extended stops to discuss Mifune’s most famous films like The Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Rare in portraits of superstars are conversations about the craft of acting, but with Mifune, former co-stars like Kyoko Kagawa, industry descendants like Koji Yakusho, and international directors like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg can’t help but opine about the singular things Mifune was able to do with his face and body.
Packed with film clips that should pique the interest of new audiences and remind old fans of Mifune’s majesty, Okazaki’s documentary also serves as an accessible visual history of one of Japanese cinema’s great contributions to global popular culture: the samurai film. Following the static choreography and flattened performance styles of early chanbara, all the way to the intricate staging and eloquent bravado of later films like Throne of Blood, MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI is a testament to the ways the individual brilliance of Kurosawa and Mifune could collide into an onscreen electricity that would inspire imitators (Star Wars, The Magnificent Seven) and ensure that cinema never be seen the same again. –Brian Hu
Writer: Stuart Galbraith IV, Steven Okazaki
Featuring: Wataru Akashi, Kyôko Kagawa, Takeshi Katô