Tokyo Journal: Remembering Toshiro Mifune

Tokyo Journal: Remembering Toshiro Mifune

9 August 2008: I go to the neighborhood theater to see Snow Trail (a.k.a. To the End of the Silver Mountains, a.k.a. Ginrei no haté), a 1946 Senkichi Taniguchi film now revived because it was Toshiro Mifune’s second film.

Revived now because in these days of falling film attendance, distributors will try anything. This is part of a weeklong package featuring the early work of Shintaro Katsu, Yujiro Ishihara, and Mifune—all major stars, all petrified into legend, all dead.

I sit and watch the twenty-five-year-old actor in this sixty-two-year-old film. Mifune plays a tough ex-con with a foul mouth and violent ways, a role he would continue for a time—Kurosawa’s Drunken Angel (1948) and Rashomon (1950).

And as I sit and watch this melodrama unreel, I remember how different Mifune himself was. Far from violent, he always wanted to do the right thing, in a world that was plainly wrong. He always tried to be the nice guy—his depreciating laugh, his big, wide, embracing smile, his concern for whatever you were talking about, and when talking about himself, that reasoned, guarded tone that some men use when talking about their sons.

But the world does not like nice guys—it prefers punks like in this picture. We say that nice guys finish last, and Japan thinks so too. Nice guys, like Mifune, are charming, fun to be with, absolutely trustworthy, and so what? So says the world.

So Mifune became the consummate actor (we never realized how good he was when he was alive) and impersonated all those people he wasn’t. Oh, he had a self. He would raise his eyebrows and spread his fingers when he spoke of his career, then sigh—as though it were not his own. He was not taken in by this self. He was not vain, regarded his accomplishment seriously, but not too seriously, was quite willing to consider himself just another person, someone like, well, you and me. He was the nicest man I ever met.

And here he is the cavorting punk up on the silver screen, and in thirty-some years he will be dead—seventy-seven, suffering dementia, organ failure. And here, right in front of me, he is so young, so alive, so vital. The world is plainly wrong.

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