Sunday, November 20, 2016

Samurai Star

The legacy of Japan's biggest movie star:
Mifune’s opening twenty minutes provide background on the 1900 to 1920s popularity of Japanese lone-samurai movies (dubbed “chanbara,” because that was the sound made by ronin’s clashing swords), and the way in which Mifune arrived on a cultural scene that—following the nation’s WWII defeat—was eager for a fresh, vibrant, non-conformist take on traditional material. That came courtesy of Mifune and Kurosawa’s work together, and in particular, from both Rashomon and, shortly thereafter, 1954’s Seven Samurai, whose bold, realistic action upended genre conventions. Okazaki’s clips from that epic lend credence to his claim that Mifune’s performance style was borderline revolutionary, vacillating between coiled calmness and rampaging ferocity to spellbinding effect. When his frequent co-star Kyoko Kagawara (herself a participant in greats like Tokyo Story, The Crucified Lovers and Sansho the Bailiff) states, “There was no one like Mifune. How do I say this? He had a big presence didn’t he?,” it comes across as a vast understatement. And moreover, it doesn’t even take into account the fact that, as confirmed by myriad archival photos, he was also a strikingly handsome man who married the debonair style of Clark Gable with the sexualized cool of Steve McQueen.
The last samurai, or the first Japanese action hero?

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