Toshiro Mifune achieved more worldwide fame than any other Japanese actor of his century. He was born in Tsingtao, China, to Japanese parents and grew up in Dalian. He did not set foot in Japan until he was 21. His father was an importer and a commercial photographer, and young Toshiro worked in his father’s studio for a time after graduating from Dalian Middle School. He was automatically drafted into the Japanese army when he turned 20, and enlisted in the Air Force where he was attached to the Aerial Photography Unit for the duration of the World War II. In 1947 he took a test for Kajirô Yamamoto, who recommended him to director Senkichi Taniguchi, thus leading to Mifune’s first film role in These Foolish Times II (1947). Mifune then met and bonded with director Akira Kurosawa, and the two joined to become the most prominent actor-director pairing in all Japanese cinema. Beginning with Drunken Angel (1948), Mifune appeared in 16 of Kurosawa’s films, most of which have become world-renowned classics. In Kurosawa’s pictures, especially Rashômon (1950), Mifune would become the most famous Japanese actor in the world. A dynamic and ferocious actor, he excelled in action roles, but also had the depth to plumb intricate and subtle dramatic parts. A personal rift during the filming of Red Beard (1965) ended the Mifune-Kurosawa collaboration, but Mifune continued to perform leading roles in major films both in Japan and in foreign countries. He was twice named Best Actor at the Venice Film Festival (for Yojimbo (1961) and Red Beard (1965)). In 1963 he formed his own production company, directing one film and producing several others. In his later years he gained new fame in the title role of the American TV miniseries Shogun (1980), and appeared infrequently in cameo roles after that. His last years were plagued with Alzheimer’s Syndrome and he died of organ failure in 1997, a few months before the death of the director with whose name he will forever be linked, Akira Kurosawa.
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