Toshiro Mifune Biography (1920-)

Born April 1, 1920, in Tsingtao, China; son of Japanese doctors serving in China; married Takeshi Shiro, 1950; children: two sons, one daughter. Addresses: OFFICE--Mifune Productions Company, Ltd., 9-30-7, Seijyo, Setagayaku, Tokyo, Japan.

Surname pronounced "mih-foo-neh"; born April 1, 1920, in Tsingtao, China, toJapanese parents; died of organ failure, December 24, 1997, in Mitaka, Japan.Actor and director. Considered the most prominent Japanese actor in the world, Mifune brought great depth and intensity to his roles, whether he was portraying a military leader, an ordinary citizen, a bandit, or a samurai. He teamed with famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa for sixteen films during hiscareer--films that spawned various remakes in other countries, including theUnited States, or were considered the inspiration for other films. These motion pictures included The Hidden Fortress, which George Lucas said inspired Star Wars; The Seven Samurai, which was remade as the western The Magnificent Seven starring Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, and Charles Bronson; and Yojimbo, which was adapted as the Italian western A Fistful of Dollars starring Clint Eastwood and later as Last Man Standing with Bruce Willis. According to Eastwood, as reported in the Los Angeles Times, "'{Mifune's} performance in Yojimbowas definitely an inspiration for me.'" The actor added "'I only met him once, {but} to meet him was like meeting the Asian equivalent of Clark Gable. Hewill always be the great samurai for us.'"

Many considered Mifune to be the Japanese John Wayne. "{He} displayed both ascreen-idol magnetism and an astonishing range stretching from classical tragedy to light comedy," wrote Rick Lyman in the New York Times. Calling him "one of cinema's greatest actors," a Washington Post reporter noted that he was"one of a few Japanese actors to succeed on foreign screens." In all, Mifuneworked in more than 140 films and television productions. His work with Kurosawa, however, received the most acclaim. Kurosawa wrote about Mifune in his book Something like an Autobiography: "The ordinary Japanese actor might need10 feet of film to get across an impression. Mifune needed only 3 feet."

Mifune was born in China, the son of Japanese doctors. He served in the Japanese Imperial Air Force during World War II as an aerial photographer. As reported in the Chicago Tribune, "{Mifune} was repatriated to Japan after World War II. When he first set foot in his homeland at age 25, he faced the poor job prospects of poverty- stricken postwar Japan." He sought work in the entertainment industry, hoping to get a job as a cameraman. Instead, he was asked to audition as an actor. He was so convincing at portraying anger in his screen test that he almost failed the test. According to Kurosawa in his autobiography, the director raced over to see the end of Mifune's audition and saw "ayoung man ... reeling around the room in a violent frenzy." He added: "It wasas frightening as watching a wounded or trapped savage beast trying to breakloose. I stood transfixed. But it turned out that this young man was not really in a rage, but had drawn 'anger' as the emotion he had to express in hisscreen test." When the judges expressed doubt about the would-be actor, Kurosawa intervened. As stated in the New York Times, Kurosawa claimed: "'I am a person rarely impressed by actors.'" He added that "'But in the case of MifuneI was completely overwhelmed.'"

Mifune's first film was Shin Baka Jidai (These Foolish Times) of 1947. The following year he drew attention with his performance in Kurosawa's Drunken Angel. After performances in The Stray Dog and Eagle of the Pacific, he and Kurosawa again drew much acclaim in Rashomon, a film that earned wide critical acclaim as it told its story from the various perspectives of each of its leadcharacters. Mifune's performance as the bandit was particularly lauded. The pair again received much attention for 1954's The Seven Samurai, which found Mifune leading a ragtag group of seven men in defending a village against a horde of vicious bandits. He again played a samurai in 1961's Yojimbo and 1962's Sanjuro. Mifune's performances as a samurai in these films became the inspiration for comedian John Belushi's samurai skits on Saturday Night Live. These roles also led Mifune to be forever associated as the great samurai.

Mifune teamed with Kurosawa for films such as Hidden Fortress; Throne of Blood, based on William Shakespeare's Macbeth; The Lower Depths; and Red Beard. Then the director and star had a falling out and ceased working together on films. However, Mifune's work in Yojimbo and in Red Beard earned him best actorhonors at the Venice Film Festival. He followed with roles in films such asRebellion, Grand Prix, Winter Kills, Inchon, The Challenge, The Death of a Master, and The Battle of Midway. He also starred with Lee Marvin in Hell in the Pacific. He is best known to American audiences for his work in the television miniseries Shogun, in which he played Lord Torinaga. He also formed his own production company in 1963, called Mifune Productions Co., and directed The Legacy of the 500,000. In a survey conducted by a Japanese magazine, Mifunewas named as the man who "best epitomized Japanese manhood and its ideals ofpride, power and virility," according to the New York Times. In addition, hewas only the second actor in the history of the University of California, Los Angeles, to receive an honorary degree from the school.

Birth Details
April 1, 1920
Tsingtao, China

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