One was a hardworking Renaissance man – a student of literature trained as a painter and apprenticed to director Kajiro Yamamoto before striking out on his own as a filmmaker. The other was a hard-living military veteran, a cameraman-in-training who stumbled into acting after his grizzled mug and gruff demeanor won a talent search. Together, director Akira Kurosawa and actor Toshiro Mifune created some of Japanese cinema’s most enduring treasures, films that expertly combined the joyful thrills of Saturday matinee cliffhangers with thought-provoking philosophy and the classic beauty of screen painting.
“Mifune had a kind of talent I had never encountered before in the Japanese film world.” – Akira Kurosawa
Over the course of almost two decades, their sixteen collaborations left a broad, indelible mark on world cinema, influencing modern-day tastemakers and shaping narrative genres from the spaghetti Western to the space opera. Kurosawa first took note of the handsome actor when Mifune was twenty-seven, during an open audition at Toho Studios; he was soon cast in Snow Trail (1947), a film Kurosawa wrote for director Senkichi Taniguchi. Just one year later, Kurosawa gave Mifune the lead role of a consumptive gangster in his film Drunken Angel, after which the actor proceeded to inhabit a variety of deeply felt roles for the director, all marked by Mifune’s rare combination of intense physicality and surprising tenderness. Of their many collaborations, it is the duo’s jidai-geki, or period dramas, set in feudal Japan, that popularized Japanese cinema in the West and forever linked Kurosawa and Mifune in the public imagination. From the 1950 sensation Rashomon to 1961’s Yojimbo and beyond, the pair’s samurai films, propelled by Kurosawa’s directorial genius and Mifune’s acting bravado, lit up screens around the world, until they parted ways professionally in 1965. This April (and into May), The Loft Cinema proudly presents a thrilling retrospective featuring five of the greatest samurai films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune!