The wonderful Toshiro Mifune

Toshiro Mifune in Yojimbo


Recently rewatched Toshiro Mifune’s enigmatic performance in Akira Kurosawa’s stunning Yojimbo, and then found this on Kurosawa’s first impression of him, during an audition:


Mifune first encountered director Akira Kurosawa when Toho Studios, the largest film production company in Japan, was conducting a massive talent search, during which hundreds of aspiring actors auditioned before a team of judges.

Kurosawa was originally going to skip the event, but showed up when an actress he knew told him of one actor who seemed especially promising.

Kurosawa later wrote that he entered the audition to see “a young man reeling around the room in a violent frenzy…it was as frightening as watching a wounded beast trying to break loose. I was transfixed.”

When an exhausted Mifune finished his scene, he sat down and gave the judges an ominous stare. He promptly lost the competition.

Kurosawa, however, had found his muse. “I am a person rarely impressed by actors,” he later said. “But in the case of Mifune I was completely overwhelmed.


Rick Lyman summed up Mifune’s enormous appeal in the actor’s December 25, 1997 New York Times obituary:

“His persona had deep roots in Japanese drama. It was a cinematic expression of a long-standing dramatic figure known as the tateyaku, a heroic leading man emerging from medieval samurai tales and epic military romances.”

However, as Lyman also points out, Mifune infused this traditional character with a decidedly modern “ironic self-knowledge and intense sexuality.”

He was a performer who seemed forever on the verge of exploding. Audiences couldn’t get enough of it, and neither
could Kurosawa.


With the intensity Toshiro Mifune brought to his performances, often balanced with a light comedic touch, it’s easy to see why Kurosawa felt that way.

Off to watch Rashomon again!