Toshiro Mifune - Biographical details and selected filmography

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The best-known Japanese actor in the Western world is certainly Toshiro Mifune, born 1st April 1920 to Japanese parents in Tsingtao, China. Although he grew up in China, he served with the Japanese army in the Second World War and was repatriated to Japan after the war. His father had run a photographic studio in China, and perhaps this inspired Mifune to apply for a job as an assistant cameraman at the Toho studios. Although he got the job, a New Faces talent contest at the studio attracted his attention, and, with a few other actors, he was chosen from over 4,000 people.

His 'angry young man' presence immediately appealed to film-makers who were beginning to flex their creative wings after strict restrictions imposed by Japanese government censors during the war. His most notable collaboration was with Akira Kurosawa who first cast him as a gangster in Drunken Angel in 1948. The director was so bowled over by Mifune's presence that it turned his original idea 'upside down' and Mifune's role expanded as Kurosawa decided to 'turn him loose'.

He became Kurosawa's favourite leading man, playing everything from modern cops to compassionate doctors, and a whole gallery of powerful samurais. He starred in Kurosawa's Rashomon, the story of a crime told from multiple points of view, which made him world famous when it won the Grand Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1951. Mifune continued to win the highest praise with his work in films such as Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Hidden Fortress and The Lower Depths. He also worked with other notable directors, such as Kenji Mizoguchi in The Life of Oharu (1952) and on Hiroshi Inagaki's samurai trilogy. However, his most successful films were those he made with Kurosawa, making him the only actor to have been awarded the best actor award at the Venice Film Festival twice (for Yojimbo in 1961 and Red Beard in 1965).

Best known for his work in many of the great films of post-war Japanese cinema, Mifune worked in a number of international productions including his extremely popular pivotal role in the TV mini-series Shogun in 1980. He also appeared as a submarine captain in Steven Spielberg's 1941, which also starred John Belushi who was well-known for his comic impersonations of Mifune 's samurai persona. In 1963 he formed his own production company and directed one film, The Legacy of the Five Hundred Thousand.

Most of his roles fell within the area described in kabuki terms as the 'tateyaku' style, that of a forceful, disciplined leading man, in contrast to the softer 'nimaime' male. His style was fast-paced and explosive, but in even the most violent warrior characters he found a sensitivity and psychological complexity that perfectly complemented Kurosawa's compassion and humanity.

Mifune died on Christmas Eve, 1997. In November 2001, Empire Magazine readers voted for his inclusion in the Ultimate Movie Poll's list of best movie actors of all time.


Yoidore Tenshi /Drunken Angel 1948

Shizukanaru Ketto /The Quiet Duel 1949

Nora Inu /Stray Dog 1949

Shubun /Scandal 1950

Rashomon 1950

Hakuchi /The Idiot 1951

Saikaku Ichidai Onna /The Life of Ohauru 1952

Shichinin No Samurai /Seven Samurai 1954

Miyamoto Musashi /Samurai - Legend of the Musashi 1954

Ikimono No Kiroku /I live in Fear/Record of a Living Being 1955

Donzoko /The Lower Depths 1957

Kumonosu-Jo /Throne of Blood/Cobweb Castle 1957

Muhomatsu No Issho /The Rickshaw Man 1958

Kakushi Toride No San-Akunin /The Hidden Fortress 1958

Taiheiyo No Arashi /I Bombed Pearl Harbour 1960

Warui Yatsu Hodo Yoku Nemuru /The Bad Sleep Well 1960

Yojimbo /The Bodyguard 1961

Sanjuro /Tsubaki Sanjuro 1962

Tengoku To Jigoku /High and Low 1964

Akahige /Red Beard 1965

Grand Prix 1966 (US)

Yamamoto Isoroku /Admiral Yamamoto 1968

Hell in the Pacific 1969 (US)

Soleil Rouge/Red Sun 1971 (FR)

Zatoichi To Yojinbo /Zato-Ichi Meets Yojimbo 1971

Paper Tiger 1974 (UK)

Midway 1976 (US)

1941 1979 (US)

Shogun 1980 (US)

Inchon 1981 (US)

Taketori Monogatari /Princess from the Moon 1987

Sen No Rikyu/Death of a Tea Master 1989

Picture Bride 1994 (US)


NFT retrospective  
Throne of Blood  
Writing on Kurosawa  


Seven Samurai book  
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