Nationality: Japanese. Born: Tsingtao, China, of Japanese parents, 1 April 1920. Education: Attended Schools in China, and was graduated from Port Arthur High School; studied aerial photography. Military Service: Japanese Army, 1939–45. Family: Married Takeshi Shiro, 1950, two sons, one daughter. Career: 1946—joined Toho Film Company, and made debut in These Foolish Times; also studied acting in the Toho drama school; 1948—first of several films for the director Kurosawa, Drunken Angel; 1963—formed Mifune Productions; also directed the first film of the company, The Legacy of the 500,000; 1966—appeared in first English-language film, Grand Prix; 1981—in TV mini-series Shogun. Awards: Best Actor, Venice Festival, for Yojimbo, 1961; Best Actor, Venice Festival, for Red Beard, 1965; also Kinema Jumpo Awards for Best Actor, 1961 and 1968. Died: 24 December 1997, in Tokyo, Japan, of organ failure.
Films as Actor:
Shin baka jidai (The New Age of Fools; These Foolish Times) (Yamamoto) (as Genzaburo Ohno)
Ginrei no hate (Snow Trail) (Taniguchi) (as Ejima)
Yoidore tenshi (Drunken Angel) (Kurosawa) (as Matsunaga)
Jaokman to Tetsu (Jackoman and Tetsu) (Taniguchi) (as Tetsu); Shizukanaru ketto (The Quiet Duel; A Silent Duel) (Kurosawa) (as Dr. Kyoki Fujisaki); Norainu (Stray Dog) (Kurosawa) (as Det. Murakami)
Datsugoku (Escape from Prison) (Yamamoto) (as Shinkichi); Shubun (Scandal) (Kurosawa) (as Ichiro Aoe); Konyaku yubiwa (Engagement Ring) (Kinoshita) (as Takeshi Ema); Kaizoki-sen (Pirates) (Inagaki) (as Tora); Ishinaka-sensei gyojoki datsugoko (Conduct Report on Professor Ishinaka) (Naruse) (as Nagasawa); Rashomon (In the Woods) (Kurosawa) (as Tajomaru)
Ai to nikushimi no kaneta e (Beyond Love and Hate) (Taniguchi) (as Goru Sakata); Hakuchi (The Idiot) (Kurosawa) (as Denkichi Akama); Bakuro ich-dai (Life of a Horse-Trader) (Kimura) (as Yonetaro Katayama); Kanketsu Sasaki Kojiro (Kojiro Sasaki) (Inagaki) (as Musashi Miyamoto); Onnagokoro dare ga shiru (Who Knows a Woman's Heart?) (Yamamoto) (as Mizuno); Ereji (Elegy) (Yamamoto); Sengoha obake taikai (The Meeting of the Ghost of Après Guerre) (Saeki)
Tokyo no koibito (Jewels in Our Hearts; Tokyo Sweetheart) (Chiba) (as Kurokawa); Sengoku-burai (Sword for Hire) (Inagaki) (as Hayatenosuke Sasa); Saikaku ichidai onna (Life of Oharu; Diary of Oharu) (Mizoguchi) (as Katsunosuke); Ketto kagiya no tsuji (Vendetta of Samurai) (Mori) (as Mataemon Araki); Muteki (Foghorn) (Taniguchi) (as Chiyokichi); Gekiryu (A Swift Current) (Taniguchi) (as Shunsuke Kosugi); Minato e kita otoko (The Man Who Came to the Port) (Honda) (as Goro Shinnuma)
Himawari-musume (Love in a Teacup; Sunflower Girl) (Chiba) (as Ippei Hitachi); Taiheiyo no washi (Eagle of the Pacific) (Honda) (as Lt. Tomonage); Fukeyo harukaze (My Wonderful Yellow Car; Blow! The Spring Breeze) (Taniguchi) (as Matsumura); Hoyo (The Last Embrace) (Makino) (as Shinkichi and Hayakawa)
Shichi-nin no samurai (Seven Samurai) (Kurosawa) (as Kikuchiyo); Mitsuyu-sen (The Black Fury) (Sugie) (as Eiichi Tsuda); Miyamoto Musashi (Samurai) (Inagaki) (as Shinmen Musashi); Shiosai (The Surf) (Taniguchi)
Zoko Miyamoto Musashi (Duel at Ichijoji Temple) (Inagaki) (as Musashi Miyamoto); Dansei No. 1 (A Man among Men) (Yamamoto); Ikimoto no kiroki (I Live in Fear; Record of a Living Being; What the Birds Knew) (Kurosawa) (as Kiichi Nakajima); Tenka taihai (All Is Well) (Sugie) (as Daikichi Risshun); Ichijoji no ketto (Samurai, Part II) (Inagaki) (as Miyamoto Musashi); Otoko arite (No Time for Tears) (Maruyama) (as Mitsuo Yano)
Ketto ganryu-jima (Musashi and Kojiro; Samurai, Part III) (Inagaki) (as Miyamoto Musashi); Kuroobi sangokushi (Rainy Night Duel) (Taniguchi) (as Masahiko Koseki); Ankoku-gai (The Underworld) (Kamamoto) (as Det. Kumada); Aijo no kessan (Settlement of Love; Accounts of Affection) (Saburi) (as Shuntaro Ohira); Tsuma no kokoro (A Wife's Heart) (Naruse) (as Kenkichi Takemura); Narazumono (Scoundrel; A Rascal) (Aoyagi) (as Kanji); Shujin-sen (Rebels of the High Sea) (Inagaki) (as Tokuzo Matsuo)
Kumonosu-jo (Throne of Blood; Cobweb Castle; The Castle of the Spider's Web; Macbeth) (Kurosawa) (as Taketoki Washizu); Shitamachi (Downtown) (Chiba) (as Yoshio Tsuruishi); Donzoko (The Lower Depths) (Kurosawa) (as Sutebichi); Arashi no naka no otoko (The Man in the Storm) (Taniguchi) (as Saburo Wataki); Yagyu bugei-cho (The Yangyu; Secret Scrolls) (Inagaki) (as Tasaburo); Konofutari ni sachi are (Be Happy These Two Lovers) (Honda) (as Toshio Maruyama); Kiken no eiyu (Dangerous Hero) (Suzuki) as Kawata)
Muhomatsu no issho (The Rickshaw Man) (Inagaki) (as Matsugoro Tomishima); Soryu hiken (Ninjutsu; Secret Scrolls, Part II) (Inagaki) (as Tasaburo); Tokyo no kyujitsu (Holiday in Tokyo) (Yamamoto) (as Jiro); Jinsei gekijo seishun-hen (Theatre of Life) (Sugie) (as Hishakaku); Kakushi toride no san akunin (The Hidden Fortress; Three Bad Men in a Hidden Fortress) (Kurosawa) (as Rokurota Makabe)
Ankokugai no kaoyaku (The Big Boss) (Okamoto) (as Daisuke Kashimura); Aru kengo no shogai (Samurai Saga) (Inagaki) (as Heihachiro Komaki); Sengoku gunto-sen (Saga of the Vagabonds) (Sugie) (as Rokuro); Nippon tanjo (The Three Treasures) (Inagaki) (as Prince Yamato Takeru); Dokuritsu gurenta (Desperado Outpost) (Okamoto) (as Capt. Kodama)
Ankoku-gai no taiketsu (The Last Gunfight) (Okamoto) (as Saburo Fujioka); Kunisada Chuji (The Gambling Samurai) (Taniguchi) (title role); Otoko tai otoko (Man against Man) (Taniguchi) (as Kaji); Taiheiyo no arashi (I Bombed Pearl Harbor) (Matsubayashi) (as Adm. Yamaguchi); Warui yatsu hodo yoku nemuru (The Bad Sleep Well; The Rose in the Mud; The Worse You Are, the Better You Sleep) (Kurosawa) (as Koichi Nishi)
Animas Trujano (The Important Man) (Rodríguez) (title role); Yojimbo (The Bodyguard) (Kurosawa) (as Sanjuro Kuwabatake); Osaka-jo monogatari (Daredevil in the Castle) (Inagaki) (as Mohei); Gen to Fudo-myoh (The Youth and His Amulet) (Inagaki) (as Fudo-myoh)
Tsubaki Sanjuro (Sanjuro) (Kurosawa) (title role); Toburoku no Tatsu (Tatsu) (Inagaki) (as Tatsu); Chushingura (Loyal 47 Ronin; 47 Samurai) (Inagaki) (as Genban Tawaraboshi)
Taiheiyo no tsubasa (Attack Squadron) (Matsubayashi) (as Commander Senda); Tengoku to-jigoku (High and Low; Heaven and Hell; The Ransom) (Kurosawa) (as Kingo Gondo)
Daitozuku (Samurai Pirate; The Lost World of Sinbad) (Taniguchi) (as Sukazaemon/Luzon); Dai-tatsumaki (Whirlwind) (Inagaki) (as Morishige Niiro)
Samurai (Samurai Assassin) (Okamoto) (as Tsuruchiyo Niino); Akahige (Red Beard) (Kurosawa) (as Dr. Niide); Sugata sanshiro (Judo Saga) (Uchikawa) (as Shogoro Yano); Taiheyo kiseki no sakusen Kiska (The Retreat from Kiska) (Maruyama) (as Adm. Kawashima); Chi to suna (Fort Graveyard) (Okamoto) (as Sgt. Kosugi)
Abare Goemon (Rise against the Sword) (Inagaki) (title role); Daibosatsu toge (The Sword of Doom) (Okamoto) (as Toranosuke Shimada); Kiganjo no boken (Adventures of Takla Makan) (Taniguchi) (as Oosumi); Doto ichi man kairi (The Mad Atlantic) (Fukuda) (as Heihachiro Murakami); Grand Prix (Frankenheimer) (as Izo Yamura)
Joi-uchi (Rebellion) (Kobayashi) (as Isaburo Sasahara); Nippon no ichiban nagai hi (The Emperor and a General) (Maruyama) (as War Minister Anami)
Yamamoto Isoruku (Admiral Yamamoto) (Maruyama) (title role); Gion matsuri (The Day the Sun Rose) (Yamanuchi) (as Kuma); Korube no taiyo (Tunnel to the Sun) (Kumai) (as Kitagawa)
Hell in the Pacific (The Enemy) (Boorman) (as Japanese soldier); Furin kaza (Samurai Banners; Under the Banner of Samurai) (Inagaki) (as Kansuke Yamamoto); Nipponkai dai-kaisen (Battle of the Japan Sea) (Maruyama) (as Adm. Togo); Akage (Red Lion) (Okamoto) (as Gonzo, + co-pr); Shinsen-gumi (Band of Assassins) (Sawashima) (as Isami Kondo); Eiko eno 5000 kiro (Safari 5000) (Kurahara) (as Tuichiro Takase)
Bakumatsu (The Ambitious) (Itoh) (as Shojiro Goto); Machibuse (The Incident at Blood Pass; The Ambush) (Inagaki) (as Tosaburo Hanawa); Gunbatsu (The Militarists) (Horikawa) (as Isoruku Yamamoto); Zatoichi to Yojimbo (Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo) (Okamoto) (as Yojimbo)
Soleil rouge (Red Sun) (Terence Young) (as Kuroda)
Paper Tiger (Annakin) (as Ambassador Kagoyama)
Midway (Battle of Midway) (Smight) (as Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto)
Ningen no shomei (Proof of the Man) (Sato)
The Bushido Blade (Kotani) (as Shogun's commander)
Winter Kills (Richert) (as Keith); 1941 (Spielberg) (as Commander Mitamura); Oginsawa (Love and Death of Ogin) (Kumai)
Inchon (Terence Young) (as Saito-San)
The Challenge (Sword of the Ninja) (Frankenheimer) (as Toru Yoshida)
No More God, No More Love (Murakawa) (as Kozo Kanzaki)
Taketori monogatari (Princess from the Moon) (Ichikawa) (as Taketore-no-Miyatsuko); Otoko wa tsuraiyo: Shiretoko bojo (Tora-San Goes North) (Yamada) (as Junkichi Ueno)
Sen no Rikyu (The Death of a Tea Master) (Kumai)
Shogun Mayeda (Journey of Honor) (Hessler) (as Lord Takugawa Ieyasu); Strawberry Road
Map of the Human Heart (Le Carte du Tendre) (Vincent Ward); Shadow of the Wolf (Agakuk) (Dorfman) (as Ramoof)
Picture Bride (Hatta) (as the Benshi)
Deep River (Kumai) (as Tsukada)
Film as Actor and Director:
Goju man-nin no isan (The Legacy of the 500,000) (as Takeichi Matsuo)
By MIFUNE: articles—
Interview with J. Gambol, in Cinema (Beverly Hills), Winter 1967.
Interview with R. Guy, in Cinema (Beverly Hills), no. 1, 1969.
Interview with Y. Alion and Y. Oshima, in Revue du Cinéma (Paris), February 1990.
Interview with H. Niogret, in Postif (Paris), June 1990.
On MIFUNE: books—
Owens, David. A Tribute to Toshiro Mifune, New York, 1984.
On MIFUNE: articles—
LaBadie, D. W., "Toshiro Mifune: Japan's Top Sword," in Show (Hollywood), May 1963.
Milius, John, "Toshiro Mifune: An Appreciation," in Cinema (Beverly Hills), Winter 1967.
Checklist in Monthly Film Bulletin (London), August 1971.
Current Biography 1981, New York, 1981.
Niogret, H., "Toshiro Mifune," in Positif (Paris), May 1982.
Belie, D. de, "Toshiro Mifune," in Ciné Revue (Paris), 21 July 1983.
Grilli, Peter, "Civil Samurai," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1984.
"His Studio and Indie Less Active, Mifune to Hike Acting Chores," in Variety (New York), 23 September 1987.
Gillett, J., "Toshiro Mifune," in Film Dope (Nottingham, England), January 1990.
Obituary, in Variety (New York), 5 January 1998.
Obituary, in Cahiers du Cinéma (Paris), February 1998.
* * *
Akira Kurosawa said this of Toshiro Mifune's acting: "Many contemporary actors unfortunately do not bother too much with creative process. They acquired several acting procedures and they then use them whether it is suitable or not. I often remember Mifune. When we worked together on the film Shichi-nin no samurai [Seven Samurai] we shot the scene in which he explains to the samurais the disgrace of the peasants, and he cries. 'My hero is a peasant, and therefore he must cry like a peasant,' Mifune said to me. I was totally fascinated when he performed for me in front of the camera. In his acting performances there was always such remarkable sincerity and truth."
Kurosawa and Mifune met for the first time in 1947 during the shooting of the film Yoidore tenshi [Drunken Angel]. It was a tragic story of a doctor in a postwar city, and Mifune splendidly played the character of a gangster ill with tuberculosis. It was his first great chance, after a short career of photography and two unimportant films. From that time on he only rarely missed playing in Kurosawa's films. The pairing is among the most famous in cinema, like that of John Ford and John Wayne and Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro. Under Kurosawa's direction, Mifune gradually became Japan's premier film actor. His fame, and Kurosawa's, spread abroad with Rashomon, a masterly treatment of a samurai story of love and revenge narrated in five different forms.
Mifune managed economically to interpret the characteristics of his heroes, their motivations, efforts, and ideas. He was boyishly direct and sensitive in Seven Samurai; magnificent and cruel in Throne of Blood, Kurosawa's reworking of Shakespeare's Macbeth in a Japanese setting; heroic and courageous in a series of Samurai dramas (Yojimbo, Sanjuro); and self-complacent but at the same time morally upright and courageous in Kurosawa's absorbing crime film High and Low, based on a novel by the American writer Ed McBain. The collaboration was more than that of actor and director. Mifune and Kurosawa understood one another and complemented each other perfectly. Mifune contributed ideas to the realization of particular scenes—for example, the filming of the duels in Sanjuro. He also contributed to entire films; for example, Kurosawa's Ran, a version of King Lear, is virtually Mifune's conception, even though he did not act in the film itself.
An international star since 1966 when he appeared for director John Frankeheimer in the epic racing film Grand Prix, Mifune has acted in numerous films outside his native Japan. They include John Boorman's World War II epic Hell in the Pacific, opposite Lee Marvin; the Euro-Western Red Sun opposite Charles Bronson; the Kennedy conspiracy thriller Winter Kills; and the epic television mini-series Shogun. More recently he appeared as an Eskimo in the Canadian-French adventure film Shadow of the Wolf. His most recent Japanese film, for director Kayo Hatta, was Picture Bride, a period tale set in the early years of this century, where he had a cameo as a narrator for silent films. Mifune and Kurosawa teamed for the last time as actor and director on Red Beard in 1965, a medical drama not unlike Drunken Angel, the film that brought the two together.
—Vacláv Merhaut, updated by John McCarty