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Director Steven Okazaki explores the legacy of Toshiro Mifune's samurai films

The director shares the story of one of Japan's most famous actors in his new documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai.
Toshiro Mifune in the Samurai Trilogy (Courtesy of Steven Okazaki)

Steven Okazaki is the director of Mifune: The Last Samurai, a new documentary about one of Japan's most important actors. "He was a huge star in Japan in the 1950s and 60s," says Okazaki of Toshiro Mifune. Mifune made films that have had a huge impact on the movies we see today. Okazaki's documentary aims to share the actor's story through film clips and interviews.

Toshiro Mifune in the Samurai Trilogy (Courtesy of Steven Okazaki)

Okazaki says Steven Spielberg describes Mifune as a seismic force coming up from the earth, "he has this capability of just exploding." Mifune has played all types of samurai, from the fool to the zen master. "No matter what kind of character he played," explains Okazaki, "you know he's ready and can go off at any minute." He even studied the movements of animals in the zoo, to create a sense of caged energy. "That's very disturbing to watch," says Okazaki.

Toshiro Mifune in Rashomon (Courtesy of Steven Okazaki)

Through his career, Mifune was able to create an ultra-cool and very volatile character, which influenced actors of the 60s and beyond.  "Newman is very Mifune-esque in that film," says Okazaki of Paul Newman's acting in Hombre. Okazaki notes, "you can see Mifune in lots of Bruce Willis films," as well as in Clint Eastwood's work. He has even inspired some of the characters in George Lucas' Star Wars. "Darth Vader is a samurai. He wears a samurai warrior's helmet," says Okazaki and the lightsaber is simply a modern samurai sword. "Clearly Lucas created Darth Vader based on a samurai warrior outfit."

Here are some of the Mifune films Okazaki mentions:

Seven Samurai

The Hidden Fortress

Rashomon

The Samurai Trilogy

WEB EXTRA | Watch the trailer for Mifune: The Last Samurai below.

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