Samurai-movie legend Toshiro Mifune dies at 77

Samurai-movie legend Toshiro Mifune dies at 77

Toshiro Mifune, who died Dec. 24 at 77, was the Japanese John Wayne. He commanded such comparison not just for his stoically heroic performances but for his body of work with a single great director. Where Wayne had John Ford, Mifune had Akira Kurosawa, teaming with the master filmmaker for 16 pictures, from Drunken Angel (1948) to Red Beard (1965). Among some hundred other films, he made only a handful in Hollywood (most notable is John Boorman’s Hell in the Pacific). Yet his Kurosawa collaborations have had a lasting impact on American movies. ”I am proud of nothing I have done other than with him,” Mifune once said of Kurosawa. Indeed, if he’d done nothing else, it would have been a brilliant career.

RASHOMON (1950) Starring in Kurosawa’s first great film, Mifune plays a medieval thief whose murderous deeds are recounted from four very different eyewitness perspectives.

SEVEN SAMURAI (1954) As a swaggering would-be samurai, Mifune is the most memorable of seven hired swords who defend a village from bandits. Hollywood remade it as The Magnificent Seven.

THRONE OF BLOOD (1957) A smoldering Mifune plays a warlord whose ambitions will be the death of him, in Kurosawa’s samurai adaptation of Macbeth.

THE HIDDEN FORTRESS (1958) In the film that helped inspire George Lucas’ Star Wars story line, Mifune has the Han Solo part: a surly general protecting a fleeing princess from an enemy army.

YOJIMBO (1961) Mifune plays a lone samurai who takes on two warring gangs to save a terrorized town. His deadpan avenger provided the role model for Clint Eastwood’s Man With No Name.