Not just an actor, not just an icon, but also one of the medium’s greatest stuntmen.
In addition to being a masterful actor, a commanding presence, and one of the most imposing cinematic figures in the history of the medium, Toshiro Mifune was also a grade-A, top-shelf badass. Need proof? Shame on you, but here it is anyway: for the majority of his films and up until his 60s, Mifune did all his own stunts. That’s right, all the swordplay, all the fisticuffs, all the jousting on horseback, all the arrow-dodging and spear-hurling – that was all Mifune, no stand-in or stunt double necessary. In fact, according to Mifune himself, ever the modest man, his willingness to take on the most dangerous stunts himself is what got him hired on his first film, 1947’s Snow Trail, as it meant director Senkichi Taniguchi got an actor and a stuntman in one. This film was particularly fortuitous for Mifune to come aboard, as its writer was about to branch into directing and was looking for a fresh-faced star. That writer? Akira Kurosawa.
The fact Mifune was not only willing but wanted to do his own stunt work lent itself to the verisimilitude of the films in which he appeared, as well as to Mifune’s overarching persona, that blend of who he was on-screen and who he was off, his particular cult of personality or brand of celebrity. We want our action-movie tough guys to be tough guys in the real world as well, we want to believe that what we see on the silver screen is an extension of who they actually are, more than we do comedians, femme fatales, horror villains, or really any other type of film star. An action star is less an actor and more a force of narrative propulsion, but when you get an action star who’s also a great actor, as Mifune was, mere action films become iconic stories, which is perhaps why certain films among his collaborations with Kurosawa have been remade so often.
The Bruce Lee of epic actors and the Olivier of marital arts icons, Toshiro Mifune embodied the spirit of the warriors he played and did his best to respect and reflect their ardor and devotion to the paths on which their lives were charted, telling their stories in the truest way he knew how, with no hesitation, no fear, and no substitutes.
In the following montage from Mifune fan and YouTuber Aikido Shugyokan, the man’s best stunt work has been collected into one rough-and-tumble, raucous display of martial brilliance that serves as a definitive reminder that they just don’t make action stars like Toshiro Mifune anymore, not by far.
Related Topics: History