Toshiro Mifune – the last samurai of Japanese cinema

Director Steven Okazaki has made a film about the actor, the legend

NEW YORK – coincidentally, ten days before today’s premiere of the film about Toshiro Mifune in new York in honor of the famous Japanese actor was opened a star on the walk of fame in Hollywood. New documentary after new York show in Los Angeles and San Francisco, after which it will be released in national theaters of the United States.

The film “Mifune: last samurai” (Mifune: The Last Samurai) considers this coincidence casual, although not devoid of symbolism. Steven Okazaki (Steven Okazaki) a few years worked on the film, which presents all the stages of a long film career, Mifune. He played in 16 films of the great Director Akira Kurosawa, who saw him as the main actor and directed such outstanding films as “rashomon”, “Seven samurai”, “Idiot”, “the Bodyguard,” “Throne of blood”.

Frame from the film “Mifune: last samurai”

Toshiro Mifune became the first Japanese and Asian actor in the world, received global acclaim. Particularly popular in the USA after he got the military satire of Steven Spielberg’s “1941” and adventure miniseries “Shogun” (Shogun). When the actor died in 1997 at the age of 77 years, his track record was 170 feature films.

Documentary filmmaker Steven Okazaki was born in 1952 in Venice (CA), represents the third generation of Japanese Americans. His films was four times nominated for “Oscar” and he got this award for short film “Days of waiting” (1991). In 2007 his painting “White light/Black rain: the Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”, filmed for HBO, won the award “Emmy”.

Steven Okazaki was interviewed by the correspondent of Russian service “voice of America”.

Oleg Sulkin: I know you’re a longtime fan of Toshiro Mifune. How long have you had the idea of capturing that love in a documentary film?

Steven Okazaki: I Admit, it wasn’t my idea. I was in Tokyo, I talked with one producer. He asked me what I would like to make a movie? I told him about the history of the samurai genre from the silent movie period to the present day. He said that it is technically impossible, because the Studio in Japan value their collections, and with them all impossible to agree on the screening of fragments. But, they say, is the producer of Toshiaki of Nakazawa (Toshiaki Nakazawa), he made such films as “13 assassins”, “Hara-Kiri”, “the Departed” – this picture, if you remember, received the “Oscar”. So he agreed to assist with family Toshiro Mifune and is looking for a Director on a movie about him.

O. S.: And you, of course, such an opportunity missed?

S. O.: Such conversations do not always work, but this worked. I agreed with Nakazawa. Yes, of course, Mifune is my idol since childhood. I remember my parents bought me a plastic colt. But I preferred to play cowboys and samurai, good I bought a samurai sword, however, is wooden. I didn’t miss any new Japanese film, which came out in Los Angeles. Then in the movie was impossible to see Asians in the role of a positive hero, or the villains, or the servants on the third cast. And Mifune was the first who broke this stereotype.

O. S.: You had no chance with him personally to be familiar?

S. O.: I came to Hawaii at the international film festival. Were having a party outdoors. I turned around and saw Mifune. He stood at a distance and with someone talking. I walked over, introduced myself. We talked a bit. He said he was going to fish Marlin with his friend, actor Richard Boone. Together they starred in the movie “Sword of Bushido”. I took a picture of Mifune and had the audacity to ask him to take photo warlike samurai pose. He readily obeyed and made a ferocious grimace. How I wish I didn’t have a camera, it would be a terrific interview for this film. But is not provided.

O. S.: In the first part of the movie you briefly introduce the viewer to the history of the samurai film. I think it’s important to understand on what grounds emerged the phenomenon of Mifune that preceded it.

S. O.: Although the traditions of the samurai genre is rich, Mifune was the first who raised it to the height of true art. He managed to create the image of a proud loner who challenges the conservative foundations of society, and to defeat any villains. In Japanese tradition the samurai has always existed naosobitsu always been separated from the rest of Japanese society.

O. S.: You mentioned the complexity of the licensing of excerpts of films in Japan. In your picture a lot of them. How are you able to negotiate with the studios?

S. O.: Yes, it is a complex matter. When I started the thread, I “googled” Mifune and discovered that it not removed any of the documentary. I think it is because of these difficulties. Reaching agreements with the studios took a lot of time and required a lot of effort and patience. But I could not postpone this project. Most living companions Mifune – the elderly people, their generation is leaving, and it was impossible to miss the opportunity to talk to the last of them.

O. S.: As a family, Mifune reacted to the idea of a film about him? You cooperated with them?

S. O.: From the first moment they offered us help and support, and his son Siro, and his grandson Rice. We recorded an interview with Rice, he helped us a lot in the production of the film. Assistance to families Mifune as family Akira Kurosawa was important and decisive for us.

O. S.: Often biographical films shot with the assistance of the hero’s family, tend to the excess of complementarity. At Mifune, known to have been difficulties in life associated with alcohol and temper. Not opposed if his heirs demonstration of these parties biography?

S. O.: of Course, they have closely followed our work, but had not received demands to remove or edit this or that episode, or the comments. Mifune did not hide their family problems, he had a mistress, but the wife did not give him a divorce, that would be a violation of Japanese law. He was not a perfect man, but he was honest in confessing your sins. We show in the film, and any discontent and resistance from the family, I did not feel.

O. S.: do You use the voice of actor Keanu Reeves. Why did you choose him as a narrator?

S. O.: I didn’t need a deep powerful voice, which would distract attention from the history of Mifune. Reeves says quietly, not pedaling intonation, without drawing attention to himself. And yet it is very important that it is properly and easily pronounces Japanese names. Stars of this caliber a little time, and if we stuck to the Japanese names, it would be a big problem. Keanu worked in Japan, and he made a recording of a virtuoso. A very humble person. Arrived at the Studio on the motorcycle, removed the helmet and immediately got down to business.

O. S.: Vertino you included an interview with Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese, who speak about the huge influence of Mifune and the samurai culture of film in the formation of Western action hero, whether it be in “Star wars” George Lucas or newwestern Sergio Leone and Quentin Tarantino. Recently in Toronto I saw the new version of “the Magnificent seven” and were amazed that not everyone knows that this story goes back to the “Seven samurai” by Kurosawa with Mifune in the lead role. Why do you think Japanese priority, so to speak, fixed in the minds of the Western audience?

S. O.: a New generation of watching movies on your phone, iPad or computer. And they look mainly action and fantasy. They don’t know now, great cinema of the past. Don’t know Kurosawa, I don’t know of Fritz lang and John Ford, I don’t know the European, Asian and American independent cinema.

O. S.: are You satisfied that the star Mifune shone on the walk of fame in Hollywood?

S. O.: Of Course! I was there at the festival of the American film Institute (AFI) and saw the ceremony. By the way, twenty years ago, a proposal to reveal the star was met with a refusal, – said the then prejudice. But it passed with great enthusiasm. So Mifune joined Godzilla, who already has his star on the walk of fame (laughs).