Underwhelming biographical doc Mifune: The Last Samurai presents Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune (Seven Samurai, Rashomon) as the personification of samurai-like reserve and loyalty.
Director Steven Okazaki uses interviews with collaborators like co-stars Kyoko Kagawa and Yoshio Tsuchiya to paint a banal portrait of Mifune as a reserved professional. We are told, through repetitive anecdotes, that Mifune ate alone, arrived punctually on set, and did whatever directors like Akira Kurosawa (The Hidden Fortress), Hiroshi Inagaki (the Samurai trilogy), and Steven Spielberg (1941) asked of him.
Okazaki only briefly touches upon thornier aspects of Mifune’s life that might have complicated this unconvincing artist-as-living-ideal narrative. One talking head speculates that Mifune’s heavy drinking was a way to let off steam, but Okazaki delves no deeper. He also doesn’t press Shiro Mifune, the eldest of Toshiro’s three children, when Shiro briefly mentions his father’s traumatic, and rarely discussed WWII military service.
Voiceover narration — co-written by Okazaki and Stuart Galbraith IV and spoken by a seemingly lockjawed Keanu Reeves — also leaves viewers with more questions than answers. Okazaki and Galbraith’s narration suggests but never explains why Kurosawa and Mifune made bleak policier High and Low as a response to pressure from Toho Pictures executives who wanted Kurosawa to make more “light hearted” entertainment like archetypal samurai classic Yojimbo. It’s also unclear why Mifune disliked the fact that he starred in a handful of television dramas in order to save his production company from insolvency. Okazaki gets close to, but never sheds enough light on Mifune’s elusive personality.
Mifune: The Last Samurai
Directed by Steven Okazaki
Opens November 25, IFC Center