Prominent Japanese/American director Steven Okazaki is set to shoot “Mifune: Last Samurai,” a high-profile feature docu on Toshiro Mifune, the most prominent actor of Japan’s golden age of cinema.
Mifune made nearly 170 movies, 16 of which with Akira Kurosawa. He won the best actor award twice at Venice, in 1961 for “Yojimbo,” and in 1965 for “Red Beard,” both directed by Kurosawa.
Principal photography will start in Tokyo on September 19, with other locations including Los Angeles and San Francisco.
“Last Samurai” will feature rare archive footage and interviews with key Japanese actors and filmmakers who worked with Mifune such as Tatsuya Nakadai, Kyoko Kagawa, Yuzo Kayama, and others.
“I’m particularly excited about filming Kanzo Uni, who choreographed many of Mifune fight scenes,” Okazaki enthused. “His claim to fame is that he was killed by Mifune more times than anyone, around one hundred and fifty times, four times in one movie.”
“I want to convey to younger audiences how extraordinary Toshiro Mifune was for his time,” Okazaki said.
“Before him there were no non-white movie heroes with stature and international appeal. This was before Bruce Lee or Jet Li or Shaft or Antonio Banderas. In fact, Clint Eastwood’s cool, take-no-shit character came from Mifune.”
The docu, conceived as being primarily for theatrical release, will focus mainly on Mifune’s samurai films, most of them made by Kurosawa.
It will focus on some of Kurosawa’s greatest period films such as “Seven Samurai ” (1954); Hiroshi Inagaki’s “Samurai Trilogy” (1954-56); “Throne of Blood” (1957); “Yojimbo” (1961), and “Red Beard” (1965); but will also include other pics not by Kurosawa.
Kurosawa and Mifune transformed the “chanbara film,” the period sword fighting movie, into bold, provocative narratives that explored individuality versus power and repression in Japanese society.
Okazaki won the 1991 Academy Award for “Days of Waiting” (Best Documentary/short subject) and an Emmy for “White Light/Black Rain: The Destruction of Hiroshima and Nagazaki.”
The producers of “Last Samurai” are Toshiaki Nakazawa (“13 Assassins,” “Sukiyaki Western Django” and Yukie Kito (“Tokyo Sonata,” “A Thousand Years of Good Prayers,” with Rikiya Mifune, who is Toshiro’s grandson, also involved.
The production company is Toichiro Shiraishi’s C.A.L. Ltd. With financing from Toshiaki Nakazawa’s Sedic International.