April 1, 1920 is the day that Toshio Mifune was born. 28 years after his birth, Mifune began his legendary acting career when he was cast as the small hood Matsunaga in Akira Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel, Japan’s first Yakuza film released in 1948.
Let’s take a look into Mifune’s legacy that spans 45 years:
After serving in the Imperial Japanese Army Aviation division as a part of the Aerial Photography unit, Mifune accepted to work as an assistant cameraman in the Photography Department of Toho Productions (now famously called Toho Co., Ltd.) Mifune’s friends placed Mifune, without his knowledge, into a contest to become a new actor; he won a place as an actor thanks to his wartime experiences. Mifune then has his first role in Shin Baka Jidai, directed by Senkichi Taniguchi.
After a dramatic audition with Kurosawa, in which Mifune lost, Kurosawa was intrigued by Mifune’s performance. This would lead to Japan’s legacy of world cinema with the 16 films of Kurosawa and Mifune’s pairing. Almost all of the 16 are world classics.
Mifune also worked in other films with international productions. For example, he starred in the Mexican production Ánimas Trujano featuring Flor Silvestre and Antonio Aguilar; his voice was dubbed by Narciso Busquets after Mifune learned Spanish from watching Mexican films to recite his lines. He was in the comedy film 1941 with John Belushi and he was in Midway. He was in the TV miniseries Shogun in 1980.
Toshio Mifune died on Christmas Eve in 1997 at the age of 77. But his legacy outlives his mortal life. There would be no Man With No Name without Yojimbo. Red Sun would just have Charles Bronson and the title wouldn’t make sense without Mifune’s character.
Watch a film starring Toshio Mifune and you will be amazed at his acting technique.