AFI FEST 2016: ‘Mifune: The Last Samurai’

I wouldn’t say that the Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune was the last samurai nor do I think that Steven Okazaki’s documentary, “Mifune: The Last Samurai,” make any discernible argument that Mifune was the last samurai.

There’s no doubt that Okazaki greatly admired the energy that Mifune brought to the screen and his extraordinary relationship with collaboration with Akira Kurosawa. Unfortunately, both Mifune and Kurosawa are gone. Their presence isn’t felt here except in its absence.

Narrated by Keanu Reeves, this documentary does spend a lot of time looking at early silent samurai features, chanbara, and we’re even told where the name comes from. That’s a quaint introduction that leads up to the Kurosawa films that made both him and Mifune famous. We also hear from Steven Spielberg and Martin Scorsese along with Kurosawa’s longtime script supervisor Teruyo Nogami and actors that were in “Red Blood” (Kyoko Kagawa), “Seven Samurai” (Yoshio Tsuchiya), “Throne of Blood” (Takeshi Kato) and “Yojimbo” (Toko Tsukasa).

While this documentary doesn’t idealize Mifune, noting that he drank excessively and crashed some expensive cars, it also doesn’t delve deeply into the psyche of a man who wasn’t samurai, was born in raised outside of Japan (China) and returned to a country defeated. Oh, but one may want to speculate what might have been if Mifune had accepted the role of Darth Vader in “Star Wars.”

“Mifune: The Last Samurai” premiered at the Venice Film Festival in September of last year (2015), and played at AFI Fest 2016 on 13 Nov. 2016. It opened in the U.S. on 25 November, rolling out to a wider release on 2 December 2016 at the Ahrya Fine Arts Laemmle Theater.

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