This year, we celebrate the 100th birthday of Toshirō Mifune (1 April 1920 – 24 December 1997). His grandson Rikiya Mifune kindly accepted to answer a few questions about his famous grandfather and his legacy as well as about events related to his centenary.
Andrea Grunert – You were nine years old when your grandfather died. What is the first thing which springs to mind when you think of him? Which memories do you value most?
Rikiya Mifune – By the time I was born Toshirō was already semi-retired, so he was pretty much an ordinary grandfather figure. I have scattered memories of him taking me to places such as aquariums, but I still remember the times where we would sit together on the couch at home watching kids shows. He would sit still with great posture like a Samurai and would speak to me in his bold and manly voice. At this point I had no clue that I was sitting next to a man with such an extraordinary life.
Andrea Grunert – It seems to me that much has happened on the website of Mifune Productions in the last three or four years. It became so vibrant. Is this due to your commitment?
Rikiya Mifune – I guess activities have become more international since the production of the first feature documentary film on Toshirō – “Mifune: The Last Samurai” – which was directed by Steven Okazaki in 2016. From that point on, one thing led to another and this year, being Toshirō’s centennial, more opportunities to celebrate his legacy have surfaced.
Andrea Grunert – How do you contribute to keep your grandfather’s memory alive?
Rikiya Mifune – I try to find as many opportunities for his films to be presented in theaters both domestically and internationally. This year, we digitalize Toshirō’s first international film “Animas Trujano” [a film, Toshirō Mifune made in Mexico with director Ismael Rodriguez], which has not been presented in Japan ever since its original release in 1961.
Andrea Grunert – What kind of commemorations are held in Japan for his centenary?
Rikiya Mifune – The National Film Archive of Japan is currently hosting a special screening program consisting of 27 of Toshirō’s films, along with a “Rashomon” exhibition celebrating its 70th anniversary. We are also developing a special television documentary about Toshirō for the end of the year.
Andrea Grunert – Until today Toshirō Mifune is an icon of world cinema. What makes him so outstanding?
Rikiya Mifune – He was an actor who could physically express both dynamic and sensitive human emotions. I think being born in a foreign country as well as his traumatic experience as a survivor of the war broadened his horizons as an actor.
Andrea Grunert – How is he remembered in Japan? How important is he for young moviegoers?
Rikiya Mifune – I think young people have heard the titles of his films, but never actually seen them. As Japan heads towards a more international direction, I believe that Toshirō’s accomplishments will be rediscovered again.
Andrea Grunert – Toshirō Mifune could be called saigo no samurai. But wasn’t he much more than that? I have the feeling that his versatility is not fully recognized by film critics and film historians.
Rikiya Mifune – To avoid this kind of fixed image, Kurosawa [Akira] purposely gave Toshirō diverse roles but I guess the image of the samurai remains strong. However, when Toshirō worked with international directors, he wouldn’t hesitate to challenge and correct the depiction of the Japanese people. The way that he fought for honor and respect may been comparable to a samurai.
Andrea Grunert – Your family still has the coat Toshirō Mifune has made of an army blanket. Can you tell the story of that coat?
Rikiya Mifune – After the war, when the military was discharged, all the soldiers received 1 yen and 50 sen along with a thick military blanket. Toshirō sewed this blanket into a jacket and pants with pockets, belt loops and stitches in an extraordinary tailor quality. The precise details reflect Toshirō’s sensitive personality.
Andrea Grunert – Is your grandfather also a model in everyday life? I learned from people who met him or worked with him how modest and generous he was. And I am impressed by the importance given to societal issues such as poverty or inequality which the films and series produced by Mifune Productions in the 1970s and 1980s address.
Rikiya Mifune – There is a lot to respect, but his qualities are nor simple or easy to follow. He was a man of perseverance, self-sacrifice and extraordinary effort.
Andrea Grunert – What are your personal projects for 2020, other than related those the centenary?
Rikiya Mifune – One day I hope to produce a Toshirō Mifune memorial museum to preserve and pass on his legacy.
Tokyo (Japan)/Hilden (Germany), 11 October 2020