Tag Archives: Toshiro Mifune

50 Years in Times Square: Kurosawa and his Western Remakes

8 Apr

On April 8, 1971, 50 years ago today, I made my first trip to see a Japanese movie on the big screen. It was Akira Kurosawa’s SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) and it may have been the first time the full three-and-a-half-hour cut of the film was shown on the big screen in New York. It was also the first fully foreign-language film with English subtitles that I would see in a theater. The theater was the tiny Bijou Cinema on West 45th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue in Times Square in Manhattan.  Interestingly, just over two months earlier, on January 28, 1971, I’d seen John Sturges’ THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960), a western remake of SEVEN SAMURAI, for the first time at a theater around the corner from the Bijou, the Victoria on Broadway and 46th Street. On May 20 of that year, I would see Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS (1964), the first in the Italian director’s “Man with No Name” western trilogy starring Clint Eastwood, at the Astor Theater, adjacent to the Victoria on Broadway between 45th and 46th Streets. A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS was an Italian western remake of Kurosawa’s YOJIMBO (1961), which I would then see on July 17, 1971, at the Bijou Cinema around the corner. So I saw Kurosawa’s two greatest samurai films and their western remakes in a six-month time period on one strip of real estate in Times Square, all while I was still in high school. Where else and at what time period could that have happened? I was so lucky to be coming of age as a film buff at just that time.31337908446_1655225bc8 Continue reading

Toshiro Mifune Centennial, Part 3: Fifty Years a Fan

31 Mar

April 1, 2020, marks the centennial of the birth of Toshiro Mifune, Japan’s greatest film actor and, arguably, the greatest film actor who ever lived. I first became aware of Mifune when his films played New York arthouse theaters in the 1960s and were advertised widely in the newspapers and sometimes reviewed in the local press. A number of older Mifune films got released for the first time in the U.S. during this period as the arthouse crowd became enamored of Japanese films and those of Akira Kurosawa and Mifune in particular.

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Toshiro Mifune Centennial, Part 2: SHINSENGUMI – ASSASSINS OF HONOR

26 Mar

As part of my ongoing celebration of Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, leading up to his centennial on April 1, 2020, I decided to re-watch one of his most important films, SHINSENGUMI: ASSASSINS OF HONOR (1970), arguably his best film that wasn’t directed by Akira Kurosawa, Masaki Kobayashi, Hiroshi Inagaki or Kihachi Okamoto. Mifune produced the film himself for Toho Pictures and had Tadashi Sawashima direct him for the first time. (It was also Sawashima’s very last feature and the only one of his films I’ve seen.) In the film, Mifune plays Isami Kondo, leader of the Shinsengumi, a sort-of paramilitary group formed in 1863 by sword-wielding farmers and ronin (masterless samurai) eager to defend the Shogun, Iemochi Tokugawa, and his entourage during meetings with the Emperor in Kyoto at a crucial time in Japan’s history. In the course of their self-imposed mission, they get into pitched battles with pro-Imperialist factions and kill dozens of their political opponents, often as a result of murderous raids on Imperialist meeting places. With the exception of small details here and there, the events depicted in the film are generally historically accurate, as far as I can determine.

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Toshiro Mifune Centennial, Part 1: The Samurai Trilogy

11 Mar

April 1, 2020 will mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune, arguably the greatest film actor in history. (He died in 1997.) I have tons of Mifune films I want to write about and I realize I can’t do it all in one piece, so I’m putting together a series on Mifune leading up to his centennial date. I’ve written about the Samurai Trilogy before, including a planned blog post that got delayed once I learned Criterion had released a new, updated, remastered edition that I needed to acquire and watch first. (The previous Criterion edition suffered from inferior print quality and inadequate subtitles.) I watched the new edition this month.

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Filming Across Cultures: Cowboys, Samurai and Kung Fu Champs in the 1970s

17 May

In the 1960s and 70s, the neighborhood theater functioned as a Cinematheque of global genre films, offering Italian westerns, French crime thrillers, English horror, Soviet fantasy, Japanese samurai films and Hong Kong kung fu films, among other genres. I still marvel at the recollection of seeing such international movie icons as John Wayne, Jean Gabin and Toshiro Mifune in new movies at local theaters when I was still a teenager. I once wrote about this particular movie culture in a chapter for a proposed book on 42nd Street theaters. I’d like to share an excerpt from the chapter, after a few paragraphs of introduction.

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Mifune: The Last Samurai – New Documentary on Japan’s Greatest Actor

2 Dec

“Mifune: The Last Samurai” is a documentary on Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune that recently played at the IFC Center in New York. To fans of Japanese film, Mifune needs no introduction. He is easily the best Japanese film actor of all time and, to many of us, arguably the greatest film actor in history. He is best known, of course, for his starring roles in films by Akira Kurosawa (THE SEVEN SAMURAI, YOJIMBO), arguably the greatest Japanese director of all time, but he also made numerous films for other noted Japanese directors, including Hiroshi Inagaki (The SAMURAI trilogy), Masaki Kobayashi (SAMURAI REBELLION), Kihachi Okamoto (SAMURAI ASSASSIN), and Kinji Fukasaku (THE SHOGUN’S SAMURAI), among others. He also made films in Hollywood and Europe, including GRAND PRIX, HELL IN THE PACIFIC, RED SUN and MIDWAY. I’ve written about one of his films here, JAPAN’S LONGEST DAY. He’s got 182 acting credits on IMDB—both film and television–and they extend from 1947 to 1995, two years before he died.

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JAPAN’S LONGEST DAY (1967) – Epic drama of Japan’s surrender in 1945

16 Aug

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Yesterday, August 15, was the 70th anniversary of Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. It was on that date in 1945 that a recorded speech by Emperor Hirohito was broadcast to the Japanese people to formally declare surrender and end all activities related to the war effort. (My father, then stationed at Camp Pendleton in California, was one of the marines assigned to the invasion fleet being prepared to embark for Japan.) I used the occasion yesterday to finally watch a lengthy film (157 minutes) entitled JAPAN’S LONGEST DAY (1967), which dramatizes the events of August 14-15, 1945, and the decision to agree to surrender terms and formally end the war. Available on DVD from AnimEigo, it was produced in black-and-white by Toho Pictures and directed by Kihachi Okamoto (SWORD OF DOOM), with an all-star cast of Toho stars, including Toshiro Mifune, Takashi Shimura, Chishu Ryu, So Yamamura, Yuzo Kayama, Susumu Fujita, and practically every actor we know from every kaiju movie: Akihiko Hirata, Akira Kubo, Jun Tazaki, Hiroshi Koizumi, Yoshio Tsuchiya, and Yoshifumi Tajima, with only Akira Takarada and Franky Sakai notable by their absence. Tatsuya Nakadai does the narration. There’s an extraordinarily large number of speaking parts, most of them military officers, and at a certain point, it becomes very difficult to keep track of who’s who and what their roles are in certain events. There’s only one woman with a speaking role in the entire film, a household servant in the home of Prime Minister Suzuki, and she’s seen briefly when a group of rebellious soldiers tear through the place looking to kill Suzuki. (The IMDB cast list identifies the character as Yuriko Hara, played by Michiyo Aratama, although the woman is never identified in the film.)

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