Sunday, 19 February 2017

Mifune: The Last Samurai Review 2016

Without them there would have been no Magnificent Seven. Clint Eastwood wouldn't have a Fistful of Dollars. And Darth Vader wouldn't be a Samurai.

Mifune: The Last Samurai, a new film by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki, explores the accidental movie career of Toshiro Mifune, one of the true giants of world cinema. Mifune made 16 remarkable films with director Akira Kurosawa during the Golden Age of Japanese Cinema, including Rashomon, Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Together they thrilled audiences and influenced filmmaking around the world, providing direct inspiration for not only The Magnificent Seven and Sergio Leone and Clint Eastwood’s breakthrough, A Fistful of Dollars, but also George Lucas’ Star Wars. Weaving together film clips, archival stills, and interviews with such luminaries as Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese. Narrated by Keanu Reeves.

Mifune: The Last Samurai is a chronologically told portrait of one of the most important and influential actors to ever grace the big screen. Mifune as an actor and a person left an undoubtedly large impression on the world, but can an 80 minute documentary do his legacy justice.

Starting off with a brief introduction to Chanbara cinema, the audiences is treated to the foundations of early Samurai films traced back to the earliest days of cinema while viewing a collection of clips from extremely rare or long forgotten films. 'Chanbara' is the Japanese word for “sword fighting films” and is derived from the sound of two swords crashing together. A real highlight is the only surviving scene from a 1926 film ‘Chokon’ in which a Samurai takes on multiple enemies on his own, while licking the blood off of his sword to give him strength.

The documentary goes through his life from being born in China, to getting drafted to fight in World War II, to returning and trying to make a living as an assistant camera-man to then accidentally becoming an actor. All the way until his untimely death. Drawing the attention of Akira Kurosawa at Toho studios, a fierce collaboration between the actor and director started which would stretch over 16 films. Kurosawa left many choices up to Mifune and allowed his to create and mold his own characters, ultimately allowing him to create his own heroes. 

There are many intriguing interviews from big name Hollywood interviews like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg who offer their own praise on Mifune’s work and how it inspired them. But it's the candid interviews from his family, friends and Co-stars that are the real heart of the film. Kanzo Uni was his frequent fight choreographer and takes great delight in telling you he was killed by Mifune onscreen more than 100 times. His daughter explains why Mifune turned down the role of playing Obi-Wan Kenobi after George Lucas himself sought him out.

One of his Co-stars explains a hilarious yet scary situation while shooting the finale of ‘Throne of Blood’ were Mifune’s character is bombarded with hundreds of arrows. What people don't know is that these were all real arrows being shot towards Mifune which he actually had to dodge… and it was college students firing the arrows… and they also had no insurance for this scene. Stories like that show how dedicated to his art that Toshiro Mifune was. And just how crazy he could be.

The main problem with The Last Samurai is it is just too short. It's never really a problem to leave you wanting more. However, appearing in almost 170 feature films, the majority of these films aren't touched upon and some of the big ones are alluded. They also hint at why Mifune and Kurosawa stopped collaborating without really giving any detail. The same can also be said for his documented affair. Although, these could have been avoided because the documentary is more a celebration of his life and career and these issues might bring the tone down.

Mifune: The Last Samurai is still a very well constructed informative picture which will open eyes to newcomers of his work and the Samurai genre. And for his already established fans it offers a great intimate insight into his life with many details and stories they won't be aware of.

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