The Magnificent Mifune
January 7 - February 2
"Toshiro Mifune was the first movie hero who wasn't a white guy. He didn't demean himself or belittle his culture. And he didn't take shit from anyone." — Steven Okazaki, director of MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI
From January 7 through February 2, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents The Magnificent Mifune, a seven-film tribute to the legendary Japanese actor who was instrumental in defining the modern action hero and raising awareness of Asian cinema in the west.
Toshirô Mifune (1920-1997) appeared in over 170 films, but he is best remembered for the ones he made with director Akira Kurosawa. The two men's careers were closely intertwined for nearly twenty years. It was Kurosawa, acting on an actress's tip, who spotted Mifune at an open-call audition in 1946 and persuaded the studio to sign him. Mifune's first role was in SNOW TRAIL (1947), written by Kurosawa, and DRUNKEN ANGEL (1948), his first film under Kurosawa's direction, is the one that the director considered his first truly personal work.
Mifune's dynamic performance spearheaded RASHOMON (1950), the film that gained international recognition for both Kurosawa and the Japanese cinema as a whole. From DRUNKEN ANGEL through RED BEARD (1965), sixteen of Kurosawa's seventeen films starred Mifune, many of them revered classics. Theirs was likely the greatest actor-director collaboration in movie history.
The series begins with the Chicago premiere of the acclaimed documentary portrait MIFUNE: THE LAST SAMURAI. Featured are Mifune's signature roles for Kurosawa: the rapacious bandit in RASHOMON, the peasant desperate to be a samurai in SEVEN SAMURAI, the Macbeth-derived warlord in THRONE OF BLOOD, and the supercool swordslinger in YOJIMBO. Also included are Mifune's key supporting role in Mizoguchi's THE LIFE OF OHARU, and his conflicted samurai in the best of the films made by his own production company, SAMURAI REBELLION.
— Martin Rubin, Associate Director of Programming
SATURDAY DOUBLE-BILL DISCOUNT!
Buy a ticket at our regular prices for the first "The Magnificent Mifune" film on any applicable Saturday in January, and get a ticket for the second Mifune film that day at the discounted rate with proof of your original purchase: General Admission $7; Students $5; Members $4. (This discount rate applies to the second feature only. Discount available in person at the box office only.)
Mifune: The Last Samurai
2015, Steven Okazaki, USA, 80 min. Narrated by Keanu Reeves.
"One of my favorite documentaries of the year...Seek out the film while it's in theaters; travel hundreds of miles if you have to. It's fantastic." — Capone (Steve Prokopy), Ain't It Cool News
"A brisk and energetic primer for those who don't know his movies or are ready to watch them again." — Ben Kenigsberg, The New York Times
Oscar-winning director Okazaki (DAYS OF WAITING) provides a wide-ranging yet compact portrait of the legendary actor. Co-written by Mifune biographer and noted Japanese film historian Stuart Galbraith IV, the film begins by laying down valuable context on the importance of the samurai figure in Japanese culture, with amazing clips from early chanbara (sword-fighting) films. The film concentrates on Mifune's collaborations with Kurosawa, proposing that the actor's bitter memories of his World War II service made him the ideal vehicle for Kurosawa's anti-authoritarian inclinations, and noting that the usually controlling director gave Mifune unprecedented latitude in creating his own characters. Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese provide insight on Mifune's international importance, but the heart of the film is the interviews with those who worked closely with him, including Kurosawa's longtime script supervisor, the stuntman who was killed over 100 times by Mifune, and the actress who was instrumental in his discovery. In English and Japanese with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)
Throne of Blood
蜘蛛巣城 / Kumonosu-jō
1957, Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 105 min. With Toshirô Mifune, Isuzu Yamada.
"Kurosawa's remarkable 1957 restaging of Macbeth in samurai and expressionist terms is unquestionably one of his finest works — charged with energy, imagination, and, in keeping with the subject, sheer horror." — Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
One of the most celebrated cultural crossovers in cinema history, THRONE OF BLOOD ingeniously adapts Shakespeare's "Macbeth" to the dynamic sensationalism of the samurai film and the hypnotic rhythms of Japan's classical Noh theater. Moving between a silvery enchanted forest and the misty slopes of Mt. Fuji, filled with memorably eerie and brutal images, the film features a powerfully physicalized performance by Mifune as the ambition-driven feudal warlord Washizu. In Japanese with English subtitles. 35mm. (MR)
七人の侍 / Shichinin no Samurai
1954, Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 207 min. With Toshirô Mifune, Takashi Shimura.
"The greatest movie ever made about warriors and battle." — Michael Wilmington, Chicago Tribune
A matchless blend of expert storytelling, rich social analysis, and vivid characterization, SEVEN SAMURAI (remade twice as THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN) is often cited as the greatest Japanese film ever made and the greatest action film ever made. Amid the chaos of 17th-century Japan, bandit-plagued villagers recruit a group of hungry, unemployed samurai to defend them. Mifune's rowdy performance as a peasant desperate to become a samurai is matched by Shimura's consummate cool as the seasoned leader of the seven. In Japanese with English subtitles. 35mm. (MR)
Note: There will be a 10-minute intermission.
用心棒 / Yōjinbō
1961, Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 110 min. With Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai.
"A landmark in the director's career — if not for its devilish hybrid of styles, inversion of genre conventions, and sly political commentary, then certainly for sheer entertainment value." — Rob Humanick, Slant
A lone swordsman-for-hire turns up in a nowhere village torn by a violent feud between two merchants and sells himself to both sides, becoming the catalyst for mayhem. Kurosawa’s elegant and darkly cynical reworking of the plot of a Hollywood western made YOJIMBO one of the most imitated films of all time, and the direct inspiration for Sergio Leone’s A FISTFUL OF DOLLARS. As the stranger, the powerfully quixotic Mifune is paradoxically the film’s moral center, plying his venal trade among the monstrously caricatured and infinitely expendable villagers. Kurosawa graphically poses the conflict in formal terms, demonstrating his mastery of widescreen composition. In Japanese with English subtitles. 35mm widescreen. (BS)
上意討ち 拝領妻始末 / Jōi-uchi: Hairyō tsuma shimatsu
1967, Masaki Kobayashi, Japan, 128 min. With Toshirô Mifune, Tatsuya Nakadai.
★★★★ “A film of grace, beauty and fierce ethical debate.” — Roger Ebert
Mifune formed his own production company in 1963, specializing in samurai and action films, of which SAMURAI REBELLION is most notable. With anti-authoritarian director Kobayashi (THE HUMAN CONDITION) at the helm, it contains a bitter critique of the feudal code (and, by extension, the rigidity and conformity of Japanese society). Set in 1725, it stars Mifune as Sasahara, a brilliant swordsman henpecked by his wife and constricted by his obligation to his clan’s lord. Sasahara’s son is forced to marry the lord’s disgraced mistress; then, after the two fall deeply in love, the lord demands her back. Sasahara is roused to defiance for the first time in his life, and his rebellion leads to a tense cat-and-mouse series of attempted negotiations, culminating in an explosion of dynamically staged swordplay. In Japanese with English subtitles. 35mm widescreen. (MR)
羅生門 / Rashōmon
1950, Akira Kurosawa, Japan, 88 min. With Toshirô Mifune, Machiko Kyô.
"What’s still staggering is the vigour, fluidity and sheer invention of Kurosawa’s direction...This level of mastery is timeless." — Trevor Johnston, Time Out London
The film that opened Western eyes to Asian cinema, RASHOMON has entered the language as a catchword connoting the subjectivity of truth. Set in medieval Japan, it presents an apparent rape and murder from four different points of view, all of which contradict each other. Just as remarkable as the film’s innovative structure are cinematographer Kazuo Miyagawa’s dazzling visuals, with glinting sunlight and high-speed tracking shots that make the thick forest where the events take place both palpably real and richly metaphorical. Mifune's earthy, volatile performance as the scruffy bandit made him an international star. In Japanese with English subtitles. 35mm. (MR)
The Life of Oharu
西鶴一代女 / Saikaku Ichidai Onna
1952, Kenji Mizoguchi, Japan, 136 min. With Kinuyo Tanaka, Toshirô Mifune.
"Mizoguchi may be the greatest Japanese filmmaker of all time. More so than the director's UGETSU MONOGATARI (or Ozu's TOKYO STORY and Kurosawa's RASHOMON), the more obscure and spiritually complete LIFE OF OHARU represents the Holy Grail of Japanese cinema." — Ed Gonzalez, Slant
Mizoguchi's sublime chronicle of the many stages of one woman's life gave Mifune his only opportunity to work with a director whose reputation rivaled Kurosawa's. In this adaptation of a novel by the 17th-century master Saikaku, Mizoguchi's exquisite compositions and hypnotic camera movements follow the heroine through her manifestations as lady in waiting, concubine, mother, maid, wife, prostitute, and mendicant nun. In a departure from his more macho Kurosawa characters, Mifune has an indelible supporting role as a lowly court page whose forbidden love for the higher-born Oharu has disastrous consequences. In Japanese with English subtitles. 35mm. (MR)