Nicknamed "The Wolf", Mifune was one of Japan's most charismatic actors, who helped create the golden age of Japanese cinema in the 1950s and 60s. He appeared in over 180 films, and is best known for his roles in Kurosawa Akira's masterpieces. A dynamic and ferocious actor, he excelled in action roles, but also had the depth to convince in subtle drama. He often portrayed a samurai or ronin (masterless samurai), sometimes rough and gruff, and usually a reluctant hero. The Hollywood equivalent would probably be Clint Eastwood in his spaghetti western days. Indeed that whole genre was heavily influenced by films like Yojimbo (poster below), which inspired the movie "For a Few Dollars More." The fact that George Lucas considered Mifune for the role of Obi Wan Kenobi in Star Wars is testimony to his international stature.
Mifune was born in the Chinese city of Tsingtao (now Qingdao) to Japanese parents and grew up in Dalian speaking both Japanese and Mandarin. His father was a photographer and the young Mifune worked in his studio for a time after graduating from middle school. He came of age while thw world was at war in 1940, and was immediately drafted. His experience with photography meant that he was attached to the Aerial Photography Unit of the Air Force for the duration of the war. He set foot in Japan for the first time at the age of 21.
After the war, he decided to try for a career behind the camera as a cinematographer. But after taking a test for director Kajiro Yamamoto, he was recommended to Senkichi Taniguchi, which lead to his first film role in Shin Baka Jidai (These Foolish Times, 1947). The following year saw the beginning of a relationship that would make him Japan's most famous actor. The first of his 16 films with legendary director Kurosawa Akira was Yoidore Tenshi (Drunken Angel, 1948). But the big breakthrough for both director and actor came with Rashomon in 1950, in which he played a medieval outlaw. The film, based on a short story, was revolutionary in its telling of a murder story from four different perspectives, dealing with the very nature of truth and reality. That same year he married Yoshimine Sachiko (who died in 1995). They went on to have three children.
Other highlights of the Mifune-Kurosawa collaboration include Hakuchi (The Idiot, 1951), Shichinin no Samurai (The Seven Samurai, 1954), and Yojimbo (Bodyguard, 1961). He reportedly watched films of lions in the wild for inspiration for his character in Shichinin no Samurai, a film that would inspire the classic western The Magnificent Seven and always ranks among the best films ever made. He also played legendary swordsman Miyamoto Musashi on several occasions, but had the dramtic range to play "salarymen" and even romantic leads. While his image was that of the warrior and all-round tough guy, and his presence was very dominating, he was only 5'9" tall (175cm) - still a couple of inches taller than most of his male co-stars.
He made one attempt at directing, 1963's Goju Man-nin no Isan, but it was a flop. During the making of Akahige in 1965 (a role that won him the Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival for a second time), Mifune and Kurosawa had a falling out that led to the end of their working relationship. After that, Mifune made several appearances in Hollywood movies. Although he took the trouble to learn English for his role in Grand Prix (1966), his parts were always dubbed, a fact that bothered him to the end of his career. Other roles in foreign films included Hell in the Pacific (1968), Paper Tiger (1975), Midway (1976), and Steven Spielberg's 1941 (1979). He revitalized his career in 1980 in the hugely popular U.S. mini-series Shogun, as Lord Toranaga. One of his final films was 1994's Picture Bride alongside Kudo Yuki.
Ranked #90 in Empire (UK) magazine's "The Top 100 Movie Stars of All Time" list. [October 1997]
In the Japanese animated series "Mahha GoGoGo" (1967) (known in the U. S. as Speed Racer), the hero was named Go Mifune; the name was chosen in tribute to Toshiro Mifune.
Was considered early on by George Lucas for the role of Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars (1977).
Even though Mifune worked hard to learn his English-speaking roles phonetically, his voice was always dubbed in the American films in which he appeared. This was one of the things that disappointed him up until the day he died.
Father of Shirô Mifune
His unique acting style is referenced by several characters in the Danish film Mifunes sidste sang (1999).
Mexican director/producer Ismael Rodríguez cast him as the drunken Mexican-Indian title role of his film Ánimas Trujano (El hombre importante) (1962). Mifune studied a tape of a Mexican actor speaking his dialog to memorize his lines. Then, on the shooting he was able to speak his entire part in Spanish. Despite this fact, in the finished film, his voice is dubbed by Mexican actor Narciso Busquets.
Reportedly watched films of lions in the wild for inspiration for his character in Shichinin no samurai (1954).
Due to his intense, intimidating screen presence and real-life status as a physical powerful tough guy and war veteran, most people (whether having known him only from film or having personally meet him) got the impression that Mifune was a much larger man than he actually was, in reality he stood 5' 9". However, even at this size he was indeed 2 or 3 inches taller than most of his male co-stars.
Father of Mika Mifune
Spoke fluent Mandarin.
Personally trained the Asian extras who were hired to play the Japanese submarine crew in 1941 (1979). He was reportedly very annoyed that they were not real sailors and had no real training, so he used his own military background to teach them how to act like sailors in the film.
Grandfather of Rikiya Mifune
Chinese name is Sanchuan Minlang.
Although born in China, he was from a fully Japanese family.
His prolific career included repeat roles as three of the most noted figures in Japanese history. He portrayed Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in three separate films, has played both the real life version of the indomitable warlord Tokugawa Ieyasu in Kabuto (1991) and his fictionalized counterpart Toranaga in "Shogun" (1980), and has performed the role of the legendary master swordsman Miyamoto Musashi four times.
His performance as Sanjuro Kuwabatake in Yôjinbô (1961) is ranked #78 on Premiere Magazine's 100 Greatest Performances of All Time (2006).
In the Japanese animated series Speed Racer, the M on the hood of the Mach 5 and Speed Racers helmet was in tribute to him.
He actually wanted to be a photographer, not an actor. He got his start in the movies when he blundered into an audition by mistake and flew into a rage.
He was considered for Mr Miyagi in The Karate Kid, but after the reading the producers felt that he acted the part too scary.
In the graphic novel series Usagi Yojimbo, Usagi's overlord is named Lord Mifune, in honor of Toshiro Mifune.
Favorite actor of Akira Kurosawa.
As an actor:
1995 Fukai kawa
1994 Picture Bride
1992 Shadow of the Wolf
1991 Kabuto as Lord Ieyasu
1991 Sutoroberi rodo
1989 Haru kuru oni
1989 Sen no Rikyu as Rikyu Sen-no
1989 CF gâru
1987 Taketori monogatari
1987 Otoko wa tsurai yo: Shiretoko bojô
1987 Sicilian Connection
1986 Genkai tsurezure-bushi
1985 Seijo densetsu
1984 Natsu no deai
1984 Umitsubame Jyo no kiseki
1984 Moetechiru hono no kenshi Okita Sohji
1984 Sanga moyu
1983 Makyo sessho-tani no himitsu
1983 Suronin makaritoru dai gobu namida ni kieru mikka gokuraku
1983 Nihonkai daikaisen: Umi yukaba as Admiral Heihachiro Togo
1983 Suronin makaritoru dai yonbu sarumo jigoku nokorumo jigoku
1983 Jinsei gekijo
1983 Suronin makyosashodani no himitsu
1983 Yusha ha katarazu
1982 Suronin makaritoru dai sanbu chikemuri no yado
1982 Shingo juban shobu dai sanbu ai ni iki-ken ni ikiru seishun
1982 The Challenge
1982 Suronin makaritoru dai nibu akatsuki no shito
1982 Shingo juban shobu dai nibu
1982 Shiawase no kiiroi hankachi
1981 The Bushido Blade
1981 Suronin makaritoru
1981 Kyukei no koya
1981 Shingo juban shobu dai ichibu
1981 Musumeyo! Ai to namida no tsubasa de tobe
1981 Bungo torimonocho
1981 Shogun as Lord Yoshi Toranaga
1980 203 kochi as Emperor Meiji
1979 1941 as Cmdr. Akiro Mitamura
1979 Onmitsu dôshin: Ôedo sôsamô
1979 Kindaichi Kosuke no boken as Kindaichi from Future
1979 Winter Kills
1979 Kakekomibiru nanagoshitsu
1978 Tono Eijirô no Mito Kômon
1978 Nihon no don: kanketsuhen
1978 Ako-Jo danzetsu
1978 Yagyû ichizoku no inbô
1978 Edo no taka
1977 Nippon no don: Yabohen
1977 Ningen no shômei
1977 Muhogai no suronin
1977 Otoko no shiken
1977 Kakushimetsuke sanjo
1976 Midway as Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
1976 Ken to kaze to komoriuta
1975 Paper Tiger
1973 Koya no yojimbo
1972 Kôya no surônin
1971 Soleil rouge
1971 Dai Chûshingura
1970 Gekido no showashi 'Gunbatsu' as Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto
1970 Aru heishi no kake
1970 Machibuse as The yojimbo
1970 Zatôichi to Yôjinbô as Sassa the yojimbo
1969 Shinsengumi as Isami Kondo
1969 Nihonkai daikaisen as Admiral Heihachiro Togo
1969 Eiko e no 5,000 kiro
1969 Fûrin kazan as Kansuke Yamamoto
1968 Hell in the Pacific as Captain Tsuruhiko Kuroda