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Toshirō Mifune

Toshirō Mifune – detail from poster of the movie Scandal (1950)
Born 三船 敏郎
April 1, 1920(1920-04-01)
Qingdao, Shandong, China
Died December 24, 1997 (aged 77)
Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan
Other name(s) Sanchuan Minlang
Occupation Actor
Years active 1947–1995
Spouse(s) Sachiko Yoshimine
Official website

Toshirō Mifune (三船 敏郎 Mifune Toshirō [miɸɯne toɕiɽoː]; April 1, 1920 – December 24, 1997) was a Japanese actor who appeared in almost 170 feature films. He is best known for his 16-film collaboration with filmmaker Akira Kurosawa, from 1948 to 1965, in works such as Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, and Yojimbo. He is also popular for portraying Musashi Miyamoto in Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy.


Early life

Toshirō Mifune was born in Qingdao, Shandong, China, to Japanese parents, and grew up in the Chinese city of Dalian with his parents and two siblings. In his youth, Mifune worked in the photography shop of his father Tokuzo, a commercial photographer and importer who had emigrated from northern Japan. Although the young Mifune spent the first 19 years of his life in China, as a Japanese citizen he was drafted into the Imperial Japanese Army Aviation, where he served in the Aerial Photography (Ko-type) unit during World War II. He repatriated to Japan in 1946.

Beginning to Work

In 1947, one of Mifune's friends who worked for the Photography Department of Toho Productions suggested Mifune try out for the Photography Department. He was accepted for a position as an assistant cameraman. However, the union was affiliated with the Communist party, which made Mifune, a religiously conservative man, very uncomfortable.[1]

At this time, a large number of Toho actors, after a prolonged strike, had left to form their own company, Shin Toho. Toho then organized a "new faces" contest to find new talent. Mifune's friends submitted an application and photo, without his knowledge. He was accepted, along with 48 others (out of roughly 4000 applicants), and allowed to take a screen test for Kajiro Yamamoto. Instructed to mime anger, he drew from his wartime experiences. Yamamoto took a liking to Mifune, recommending him to director Senkichi Taniguchi. This led to Mifune's first feature role, in Shin Baka Jidai.


One of Mifune's fellow performers, one of the 32 women chosen during the new faces contest, was Sachiko Yoshimine. Eight years Mifune's junior, she came from a respected Tokyo family. They fell in love and Mifune soon proposed marriage.

Yoshimine's parents were strongly opposed to the union. Mifune was doubly an outsider, being a non-Buddhist as well as a native Manchurian. His choice of profession also made him suspect, as actors were generally assumed to be irresponsible and financially incapable of supporting a family.

Director Senkichi Taniguchi, with the help of Akira Kurosawa, convinced the Yoshimine family to allow the marriage. It took place in February 1950. In November of the same year, their first son, Shirō was born. In 1955, they had a second son, Takeshi. Mifune's daughter Mika was born to his mistress, actress Mika Kitagawa, in 1982.

Period of Prosperity

Toshirō Mifune in the film Drunken Angel (1948).

His imposing bearing, acting range, facility with foreign languages and lengthy partnership with acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa made him the most famous Japanese actor of his time, and easily the best known to Western audiences. He often portrayed a samurai or ronin, who was usually coarse and gruff (Kurosawa once explained that the only weakness he could find with Mifune and his acting ability was his "rough" voice), inverting the popular stereotype of the genteel, clean-cut samurai. In such films as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo, he played characters who were often comically lacking in manners, but replete with practical wisdom and experience, understated nobility, and, in the case of Yojimbo, unmatched fighting prowess. Sanjuro in particular contrasts this earthy warrior spirit with the useless, sheltered propriety of the court samurai. Kurosawa highly valued Mifune for his effortless portrayal of unvarnished emotion, once commenting that he could convey in only three feet of film an emotion for which the average Japanese actor would require ten feet. Mifune's portrayal of Musashi Miyamoto in Hiroshi Inagaki's Samurai Trilogy is deliberately made to become the epitome of samurai honour and manners.

Mifune was famous for his self-deprecating sense of humor, which often found its way into his film roles. He was renowned for the effort he put into his performances. To prepare for Seven Samurai and Rashomon, Mifune reportedly studied footage of lions in the wild; for Ánimas Trujano, he studied tapes of Mexican actors speaking, so he could recite all his lines in Spanish. In his earliest film roles in English like Grand Prix, made in 1966, he learned his lines phonetically. This met with limited success and his voice was often dubbed by Paul Frees. By the time he made Red Sun in 1971 he had become somewhat more proficient in the language and his voice is heard throughout this multinational western. He was always disappointed that he did not have a larger career in the West. His most prominent English-language role was probably playing Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in Midway (for which he was again dubbed by Frees).

He played a role as General Rokurota in The Hidden Fortress, a film which was greatly admired by George Lucas. Its plot and characters have parallels in the original Star Wars film.

Toshirō Mifune as bandit Tajōmaru
in Rashomon (1950).

Mifune has been credited as originating the "roving warrior" archetype, which he perfected during his collaboration with Kurosawa. Clint Eastwood was among the first of many American actors to adopt this persona, which he used to great effect in his Western roles, especially the Spaghetti Westerns made with Sergio Leone, where he played a similar "Man with No Name" character like Mifune did in Yojimbo. Mifune may also be credited with originating the Yakuza archetype, with his performance as a mobster in Kurosawa's Drunken Angel (1948), the first Yakuza film.

Most of the sixteen Kurosawa–Mifune films are considered cinema classics. These include Drunken Angel, Stray Dog, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, The Hidden Fortress, High and Low, Throne of Blood (an adaptation of Shakespeare's MacBeth), Yojimbo, and Sanjuro. (See filmography, below)

Mifune and Kurosawa finally parted ways after Red Beard. Several factors contributed to the rift that ended this career-spanning collaboration. Most of Mifune's contemporaries acted in several different movies throughout the year. Since Red Beard required Mifune to grow a natural beard — one he had to keep for the entirety of the film's two years of shooting — he was unable to act in any other films during the production. This put Mifune and his financially strapped production company deeply into debt, creating friction between him and Kurosawa. Although Red Beard played to packed houses in Japan and Europe, which helped Mifune recoup some of his losses, the ensuing years held varying outcomes for both Mifune and Kurosawa. After the film's release, the careers of each man took different arcs: Mifune continued to enjoy success with a range of samurai and war-themed films (Rebellion, Samurai Assassin, The Emperor and a General, among others). In contrast, Kurosawa's output of films dwindled and drew mixed responses. During this time, Kurosawa apparently attempted suicide. In 1980, Mifune experienced popularity with mainstream American audiences through his role as Lord Toranaga in the television miniseries Shogun. Yet Kurosawa did not rejoice in his estranged friend's success, and publicly made derisive remarks about Shogun.

Later life

Early in the 1980s, Mifune founded an acting school, Mifune Geijutsu Gakuin (三船芸術学院). The school failed after only three years, due to mismanaged finances.[citation needed]

Mifune received wider audience acclaim in the West than he ever had after playing Toranaga in the 1980 TV miniseries Shogun. However, the series' historically accurate yet blunt portrayal of the Japanese shogunate and the greatly abridged version shown in Japan meant that it was not as well received in his homeland. It deepened the rift with Kurosawa, virtually ensuring that they would not work together again.[citation needed]

The relationship between the two men remained ambivalent. While Kurosawa made some very uncharitable comments about Mifune's acting, he also admitted in an interview in Interview magazine that "All the films that I made with Mifune, without him, they would not exist". He also presented Mifune with the Kawashita award which he himself had won two years prior. They finally made something of a reconciliation in 1993 at the funeral of their friend Ishiro Honda. After making tenuous eye contact, they tearfully embraced one another, ending nearly three decades of mutual avoidance.[citation needed] They never collaborated again, however, nor did they have a chance to restore their friendship fully. Both died within a year of the other.

In 1992, Mifune began suffering from a serious unknown health problem. It has been variously suggested that he destroyed his health with overwork, suffered a heart attack, or experienced a stroke. For whatever reason, he abruptly retreated from public life and remained largely confined to his home, cared for by his estranged wife Sachiko. When she succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 1995, Mifune's physical and mental state began to decline rapidly.[citation needed]

He died in Mitaka, Tokyo, Japan, of multiple organ failure at the age of 77.


Mifune was awarded the Order of the Sacred Treasure by the Japanese government in 1993.[2]

Personal quotes

Of Akira Kurosawa, Mifune said, "I am proud of nothing I have done other than with him".

Mifune had a kind of talent I had never encountered before in the Japanese film world. It was, above all, the speed with which he expressed himself that was astounding. The ordinary Japanese actor might need ten feet of film to get across an impression; Mifune needed only three. The speed of his movements was such that he said in a single action what took ordinary actors three separate movements to express. He put forth everything directly and boldly, and his sense of timing was the keenest I had ever seen in a Japanese actor. And yet with all his quickness, he also had surprisingly fine sensibilities. – Akira Kurosawa, Something Like an Autobiography.


Toshirō Mifune with Machiko Kyō in Rashomon (1950).

Due to variations in translation from the Japanese and other factors, there are multiple titles to many of Mifune's films (see IMDB link). The titles shown here are the most common titles used in the United States.

  • 1947 Snow Trail - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1947 These Foolish Times - Parts 1 & 2 - directed by Kajiro Yamamoto
  • 1948 Drunken Angel - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1949 The Quiet Duel - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1949 Jakoman and Tetsu - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1949 Stray Dog - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1950 Escape at Dawn - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1950 Conduct Report on Professor Ishinaka - Directed by Mikio Naruse
  • 1950 Scandal - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1950 Engagement Ring - directed by Keisuke Kinoshita
  • 1950 Rashomon - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1951 Beyond Love and Hate - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1951 Elegy - directed by Kajiro Yamamoto
  • 1951 The Idiot - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1951 Pirates - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1951 Meeting of the Ghost Après-Guerre - directed by Kiyoshi Saeki
  • 1951 Conclusion of Kojiro Sasaki-Duel at Ganryu Island directed by Hiroshi Inagaki - This was the first, but not the last, time that Mifune played Musashi Miyamoto
  • 1951 The Life of a Horsetrader - directed by Keigo Kimura
  • 1951 Who Knows a Woman's Heart - directed by Kajiro Yamamoto
  • 1952 Vendetta for a Samurai - directed by Kazuo Mori
  • 1952 Foghorn - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1952 The Life of Oharu - directed by Kenji Mizoguchi
  • 1952 Jewels in our Hearts - directed by Yasuke Chiba
  • 1952 Swift Current - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1952 The Man Who Came to Port - directed by Ishiro Honda
  • 1953 My Wonderful Yellow Car - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1953 The Last Embrace - directed by Masahiro Makino
  • 1953 Love in a Teacup - directed by Yasuke Chiba
  • 1953 The Eagle of the Pacific - directed by Ishiro Honda
  • 1954 Seven Samurai - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1954-56 Samurai Trilogy - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
    • 1954 Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto
    • 1955 Samurai II: Duel at Ichijoji Temple
    • 1956 Samurai III: Duel at Ganryu Island
  • 1954 The Sound of Waves - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1954 The Black Fury - directed by Toshio Sugie
  • 1955 A Man Among Men - directed by Kajiro Yamamoto
  • 1955 All is Well - Part 1 & 2 - directed by Toshio Sugie
  • 1955 No Time for Tears - directed by Seiji Maruyama
  • 1955 Record of a Living Being aka I Live in Fear - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1956 Rainy Night Duel - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1956 The Underworld - directed by Kajiro Yamamoto
  • 1956 Settlement of Love - directed by Shin Saburi
  • 1956 A Wife's Heart - directed by Mikio Naruse
  • 1956 Scoundrel - directed by Nabuo Aoyagi
  • 1956 Rebels on the High Seas - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1957 Throne of Blood aka Spider Web Castle - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1957 A Man in the Storm - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1957 Be Happy These Two Lovers - directed by Ishiro Honda
  • 1957 Yagyu Secret Scrolls - part 1 - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1957 A Dangerous Hero - directed by Hideo Suzuki
  • 1957 The Lower Depths - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1957 Downtown - directed by Yasuki Chiba
  • 1958 Yagyu Secret Scrolls - part 2 - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1958 Tokyo Holiday - directed by Kajiro Yamamoto
  • 1958 Muhomatsu, The Rikshaw Man - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1958 The Happy Pilgrimage - directed by Yasuki Chiba
  • 1958 All About Marriage - uncredited cameo - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
  • 1958 Theater of Life - directed by Toshio Sugie
  • 1958 The Hidden Fortress - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1959 Boss of the Underworld - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
  • 1959 Samurai Saga - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1959 The Saga of the Vagabonds - directed by Toshio Sugie
  • 1959 Desperado Outpost - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
  • 1959 The Birth of Japan - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1960 The Last Gunfight - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
  • 1960 The Gambling Samurai - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1960 Storm Over the Pacific - directed by Shūe Matsubayashi
  • 1960 Man Against Man - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1960 The Bad Sleep Well - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1960 The Masterless 47 - part 1 - directed by Toshio Sugie
  • 1961 The Story of Osaka Castle - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1961 The Masterless 47 - part 2 - directed by Toshio Sugie
  • 1961 Yojimbo aka The Bodyguard - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1961 The Youth and his Amulet - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1962 Ánimas Trujano aka The Important Man - directed by Ismael Rodríguez
  • 1962 Sanjuro - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1962 Tatsu - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1962 Chushingura: Hana no Maki, Yuki no Maki - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1963 Wings over the Pacific - directed by Shūe Matsubayashi
  • 1963 High and Low aka Heaven and Hell - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1963 Legacy of the 500,000 - directed by Toshiro Mifune
  • 1963 The Great Thief - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1964 Whirlwind - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1965 Samurai Assassin aka Samurai - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
  • 1965 Red Beard - directed by Akira Kurosawa
  • 1965 Sanshiro Sugata - directed by Seiichiro Uchikiro - this is a remake of Kurosawa's films Sanshiro Sugata and Sanshiro Sugata part 2
  • 1965 Retreat from Kiska - directed by Seiji Maruyama
  • 1965 Fort Graveyard - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
  • 1966 Wild Goemon - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1966 The Sword of Doom - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
  • 1966 The Adventure of Kigan Castle - directed by Senkichi Taniguchi
  • 1966 The Mad Atlantic - directed by Jun Fukuda
  • 1966 Grand Prix - directed by John Frankenheimer - This was Mifune's first English language film - He was learning English phonetically - It is reported that his voice was used at the premiere - All versions of the film after that are dubbed by Paul Frees, except for the scenes where he is speaking Japanese where his voice is used.
  • 1967 Samurai Rebellion - directed by Masaki Kobayashi
  • 1967 The Longest Day of Japan - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
  • 1968 The Sands of Kurobe - directed by Kei Kumai
  • 1968 Admiral Yamamoto - directed by Seiji Maruyama
  • 1968 Gion Festival - directed by Daisuke Itō and Tetsuya Yamanouchi
  • 1968 Hell in the Pacific - directed by John Boorman - This was filmed with different endings for the U.S. and Japanese releases. Both are available on current video releases.
  • 1969 Samurai Banners - directed by Hiroshi Inagaki
  • 1969 5,000 Kilometers to Glory - directed by Koreyoshi Kurahara
  • 1969 Battle of the Japan Sea - directed by Seiji Maruyama
  • 1969 Red Lion - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
  • 1969 Band of Assassins - directed by Tadashi Sawashima
  • 1970 Zatoichi Meets Yojimbo - directed by Kihachi Okamoto
  • 1970 The Ambitious - directed by Daisuke Ito
  • 1970 Incident at Blood Pass - directed by Hiroshi Inigaki
  • 1970 The Walking Majo - directed by Koji Senno, Nobuaki Shirai and Keith Eric Burt
  • 1970 The Militarists - directed by Hiromichi Horikawa
  • 1971 Red Sun - directed by Terence Young - not released in the U.S. until 1972
  • 1975 Paper Tiger - directed by Ken Annakin
  • 1975 Midway - directed by Jack Smight
  • 1977 Proof of the Man - directed by Junya Sato
  • 1977 Japanese Godfather: Ambition - directed by Sadao Nakajima
  • 1977 Shogun's Samurai - directed by Kinji Fukasaku
  • 1978 Dog Flute - directed by Sadao Nakajima
  • 1978 Lady Ogin - directed by Kei Kajima
  • 1978 Japanese Godfather: Conclusion - directed by Sadao Nakajima
  • 1978 The Fall of Ako Castle - directed by Kinji Fukasaku
  • 1978 Lord Incognito - directed by Tetsuya Yamauchi
  • 1979 Winter Kills - directed by William Richart
  • 1979 The Adventures of Kosuke Kindaichi - directed by Nobuhiku Kobayashi
  • 1979 Secret Detective Investigation-Net in Big Edo - directed by Akinori Matsuo
  • 1979 1941 - directed by Steven Spielberg
  • 1981 The Bushido Blade - directed by Tsugunobu Kotani
  • 1981 Port Arthur - directed by Toshio Masuda
  • 1981 Shogun - directed by Jerry London - this was shown on television in the U.S. and as a theatrical version in the rest of the world
  • 1981 Inchon! - directed by Terence Young
  • 1982 The Challenge - directed by John Frankenheimer
  • 1983 Conquest - directed by Sadao Nakajima
  • 1983 Theater of Life - directed by Sadao Nakajima, Junya Sato and Kinji Fukasaku
  • 1983 Battle Anthem - directed by Toshio Masuda
  • 1984 The miracle of Joe the Petrel - directed by Toshiya Fujita
  • 1985 Legend of the Holy Woman - directed by Toru Murakawa
  • 1986 Song of Genkai Tsurezure - directed by Masanobu Deme
  • 1987 Shatterer - directed by Tonino Valerii
  • 1987 Tora-san Goes North - directed by Yoji Yamada
  • 1987 Princess from the Moon - directed by Kon Ichikawa
  • 1989 Demons in Spring - directed by Akira Kobayashi
  • 1989 Death of a Tea Master - directed by Kei Kumai
  • 1989 cf Girl - directed by Izo Hashimoto
  • 1991 Strawberry Road - directed by Koreyoshi Kurihara
  • 1992 Helmet - directed by Gordon Hessler
  • 1992 Shadow of the Wolf - directed by Jacques Dorfman
  • 1994 Picture Bride - directed by Kayo Hatta
  • 1995 Deep River - directed by Kei Kumai

Television appearances

All shows aired in Japan except for Shogun which aired in the U.S.

  • 1968 The Masterless Samurai - 6 one hour episodes
  • 1971 Daichūshingura - 52 one hour episodes
  • 1972 Ronin of the Wilderness - 104 one hour episodes
  • 1973 Yojimbo of the Wilderness - 5 one hour episodes
  • 1976 The Sword, The Wind and the Lullaby - 27 one hour episodes
  • 1977 Ronin in a Lawless Town - 23 one hour episodes
  • 1978 The Spy Appears - 5 one hour episodes
  • 1978 An Eagle in Edo - 38 one hour episodes
  • 1979 Hideout in a Suite - 11 one hour episodes
  • 1980 Shogun - parts 1 & 5 159 minutes parts 2-4 93 minutes
  • 1981 Sekigahara - one seven hour episode
  • 1981 Bungo's Detective Notes - 3 one hour episodes
  • 1981 The Ten Battles of Shingo - 2 one hour episodes
  • 1981 My Daughter! Fly on the Wings of Love and Tears - 1 two hour episode
  • 1981 The Crescent Shaped Wilderness - 1 two hour episode
  • 1982 The Ronin's Path - 5 two hour episodes
  • 1982 The Happy Yellow Handkerchief - 1 two hour episode
  • 1983 The Brave Man Says Little - 1 eight hour episode
  • 1983 The Ronin's Path vol. 5 - 1 one hour episode
  • 1983 Ronin-Secret of the Wilderness Valley - 1 one hour episode
  • 1984 Soshi Okita, Burning Corpse of a Sword Master - 1 one hour episode
  • 1984 The Burning Mountain River - 51 episodes



Further reading

  • Galbraith, Stuart, IV (2002). The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune. Faber & Faber. ISBN 0-571-19982-8. 

External links



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