An individual exhibiting such uniqueness or individuality that he or she will cause a roomful of bar cronies to exclaim, "That's one interesting motherfucker!" Actual sexual relations with one's mother are not required.
When I was about 5 years old, my mom took me to see the Akira Kurosawa film, "The Seven Samurai," and it pretty much fucked me for life! But don't hate my moms, y'all. Back in the day she was so hopped up on goofballs and poppers she can hardly be blamed for what she did.
The key memory I have from this youthful cinematic experience is the following scene: Toshiro Mifune, playing one of the seven samurai who've been hired to protect a farming village from bandits has just been knocked down by a rifle blast to the gut. Stunned, he pulls himself up, then runs at the bandit who fired upon him. The dude sees Toshiro coming at him sword first, and you can practically hear the thoughts going through his head. "I killed you, nigga! How can you still be standing? Goddamn! Argh!" The "argh" occurs when Toshiro runs that fool through with three foot long samurai sword. Is that balls or what? Mifune has his intestines practically falling out of his chest, but he still knows gonna take this bitch out!
As such, it should come as no surprise to you that the English translation for "Toshiro" is "ass" and for "Mifune" it's "kickin'!" The Japanese actor who starred in 130 films from 1947 - 1996 would've had no problem eating Clint Eastwood for breakfast and poopin' out Charles Bronson. Hombre was tough! But he was more than just tough, he was funny. And unlike a lot of western tough guys, he could act! Chuckie Bronson's range was between that of an an oak tree and a two by four (Motherfucker was wooden!) but Mifune could be clownish (as he was in "The Seven Samurai"), stoic (as he was in the "Samurai" trilogy) and tender (per "Red Beard.")
Now, frankly, any look at Mifune really should be about his partnership with the legendary film director Akira Kurosawa, who was an Interesting Motherfucker himself. Mifune's best films were done by Akira's capable hands and there's no doubt he did a great job setting up the canvas that Mifune was able to boldly paint his memorable characters upon. However, I didn't want to make the effort of sticking both their faces in the left hand corner, so this piece is officially about Toshiro.
For us to really understand the making of Mifune we have to step into the trusty old Acid Logic time machine. You will see that with a few quick twisting of knobs we will be deposited in the film studios of post-war Japan.. Waitasec! This isn't post-war Japan at all, it's Germany just after the First World War! We better get a move on. Everyone here hates me ever since I gave all those nutty ideas to a young Adolph Hitler. Hey, I thought he knew I was kidding!
Ahh. here we are. Japan's Toho studios in 1946. A young Mifune, fresh from a stint in the army, which included some experience as an aerial photographer, has been trying to get work in the film industry as an assistant cameraman. But, through a clerical error of the Gods, he has accidentally been called in to do a screen test for the studio! Mifune is actually upset at the error, and his poorly controlled rage shines through to the judges as conveying exceptionally strong emotion. The judges ask him to pretend to be drunk, and though Mifune feels mocked, he draws on his vast experience in such endeavors, and delivers an effective performance as a drunkard, stumbling and lurching about the room. The judges are impressed. But wait! Who's that man off in the shadows, rubbing his hands together and cackling, "Yes, he will fit into my plans perfectly."? Why, it's none other than a young Akira Kurosawa. He sees in Mifune a directness of expression that is unmatched. In later years, he describes Mifune in his autobiography as such, "The speed of his movements was such that he said in a single action what took ordinary actors three separate movements to express. He put forth everything directly and boldly, and his sense of timing was the keenest I had ever seen in a Japanese actor. And yet with all his quickness, he also had surprisingly fine sensibilities."
Mifune's first films, "Snow Trail" (1946) and "These Foolish Times" (1947), were not directed by Kurosawa, but in 1948 they got together to make "Drunken Angel." It is, by all accounts, a splendid film, but I've never seen it, so let's jump past it to a few that I have seen. "Rashoman" (1950) was a breakthrough film conceptually and visually. It details an attack on a young woman and murder of her lover by a roughish bandit, played by our homeslice, Mifune. The catch is that the story is not told once, but four times through four different characters: the young woman, the bandit, the murder victim (through a medium) and by a passing woodcutter. Of course, this results in four different stories and the truth is never revealed. I was actually reminded of "Rashoman" recently, while watching Richard Linklater's animated foray "Waking Life." Both films argue that it's impossible for a person to know the absolute truth of any situation, because so much of what we see is filtered through our ego and biases. Heavy stuff. Mifune received rave reviews as the loutish bandit, putting to good use the rage he'd expressed in the Toho studios four years earlier.
The next Kurosawa collaboration was "The Seven Samurai," mentioned above. This flick tells the adventures of a group of Samurai who come together to protect a farming village from an attack by forty bandits. (Echoing Ali Baba's tale of forty thieves?) Like "Rashomon," Mifune once again plays an oafish brute, though this time with a touch of comedy and tragedy. In one scene he rescues a child from a burning building in which the baby's parents have perished. Holding the child, Mifune's character breaks down, recalling that he too was orphaned in such a manner. (Hey, it's genuinely moving, y'all.) But what sets "The Seven Samurai" apart from most battle films is its pacing. The first hour and a half is relatively sedate, telling the story of how the villagers tracked down the samurai and assembled the team. When the bandits finally attack, they are repeatedly lured in to the center of the village, in groups of one or two, where the once timid villagers descend on them with disturbing savagery. Of course, the bandits finally manage one full-scale attack, which results in multiple deaths for both sides. The ending features a rather poignant moment, where one of the surviving samurai comments on the fact that while the villagers can forget these moments of bloodshed and go back to their simple ways, a samurai is destined to repeat them for the rest of his life and thus bare the sins of society. Kurosawa was using his films to present larger themes about life, and Mifune was becoming an important part of this presentation.
Skipping ahead several years, we arrive at what is probably my favorite Mifune film, "Yojimbo" (1961). Also directed by Kurosawa, the story has since become a Hollywood cliché: A lone warrior with no past arrives in a town containing two warring factions. Using his wits, he plays both sides against each other, switching his allegiances at the drop of hat and eventually kicking serious ass! (This premise was used in the western "A Fistful of Dollars" and the vastly under-rated Bruce Willis vehicle, "Last Man Standing" which contained a writing credit for Kurosawa.) While "Yojimbo" does have some grander statements to make about the violent nature of man, its strength is that of a splendid action movie. In this film Toshiro really nails down his ability to play the ultimate tough guy - not some half robot dullard of the Van Damme or Stallone school of "acting," but a dude possessing serious pathos. A fighter who knows that while he may be destined to win every battle on the mortal plane, he is destined to lose the battle for his soul. The film also has one of the greatest tough guy lines ever uttered. Yojimbo, Mifune's anti-hero, has just had his ass seriously kicked by one of the rival gangs. Bloodied and dying, he staggers back to his hovel, which is in the center of town. His one accomplice looks at Yojimbo and pretty much figures the jig is up. "Are you going to die?" he asks Yojimbo. "No, I can't die yet." Yojimbo replies. "There are many men to kill." Is that not totally bitchin'? Staying alive solely to kill your enemies? That's dedication, baby!
Of course there are a bundle of other films in which Mifune collaborated with Kurosawa, but I thought we'd take a look at some of the work Mifune did with other directors. Now a lot these films, to be kind, were schlocko, second rate action films, akin to anything that ever starred Dolph Lundgren. (Ever see "Army of One," where Dolph has a cliff hanger battle with "Just Shoot Me's" George Segal. It's like, "Gee, who's gonna win? The muscular, seven foot tall Russian dude or the pudgy old guy with a hairpiece?") These films may have helped cement Mifune's reputation as an movie star, but many can be ignored. Here's a few that can't:
Series: ("Samurai I, II, and III")
There was enough excitement to Mifune's life that I could fill up a thousand Interesting Motherfuckers. Hopefully I've given you yahoos enough to start exploring his world. Mifune died in 1997 at the age of 77, but he could pretty much be content that he was regarded as Japan's leading thespian. (Not a bad feat for a guy who never even intended to become an actor.) He'd done over a hundred films, worked extensively with a man reputed to be the best director ever, and won a 1984 poll as the man who best represented Japanese film. Whenever some rock musician dies they always say that he's up in heaven jamming with Jimi Hendrix. Well, if I know Mifune, he's probably up there drinking sake with Miyamoto Mushashi and getting into bar brawls and then jamming all night with Jimi Hendrix! That's the way of Samurai, boo-yahhh!
Oh, one more thing: There was one other noteworthy film Mifune did with Kurosawa called "High and Low." How was it? Well, I dunno because after seeing the display box in the local Blockbusters for several nights in a row I asked them when it would be returned only to find that they had lost their only copy. Can you believe that shit? I shoulda pulled a Mifune on them and gone in with a six foot long katana and when the dude told me they'd lost it I could've neatly swiped his head of with a the natural skill of a level 10 samurai. Then when that manager chick ran up to complain about me killing her dudes I coulda whipped around and cleanly sliced her in half. Then when the Blockbuster official security Ninjas arrived I could have finished them off, one by one, just like in "Samurai II: Duel At Ichichoji." Cuz if there's one piece of wisdom Mifune managed to impart of the world through his work, it's this: Violence solves everything.
*Kurosawa's films also had a big effect on George Lucas and as such, Mifune ended up playing the prototype characters for a lot of "Star Wars" icons. But which ones was he? Luke? Obi-Wan? Han Solo? Truth is, parts of Mifune showed up in all those characters. Motherfucker even had a bit of Chewbacca in him!
Wil Forbis is the pen named shared by such noted authors as James Ellroy, Katie Roiphe, and Jim Thompson. E-mail him, I mean, them, at email@example.com
View Wil's Acid Logic web log, a stirring endorsement of sex with pandas!
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