Toshiro Mifune

  1. Seiji Miyaguchu, Shichinin no samura (Seven Samurai), Japan,  1953.  As legendary director Akira Kurosawa started putting his samurai together (just six at first, all loosely based on historic figures), he had the stoic swordsman Kyuko in mind for Mifune… in the seventh (!)  of their 16 films.   Then, with his co-writers, Kurosawa decided “six sober samurai were a bore – they needed a character more off-the-wall,” a hero everyone could identify with, not a full samurai. Mifune became the seventh guy, the mercurial show-off, Kikuchiyo.  The director then broke his usual rules and allowed the actor great improvisational leeway.
  2. Eli Wallach, Lord Jim, 1965.    Writer-director Richard Brooks’ first choice for The  General.  The Chinese-born Japanese superstar  (181 films) finally made his Western debut –  in modern  dress – in John Frankenheimer’s Grand  Prix, 1966.   Wallach always thought he was being asked to play the Mifune character in the Magnificent Seven re-make of the Japanese classic, Seven Samurai – Eli played the bandit chief, instead. 
  3. Tetsuro Tama,  You Only Live Twice, 1967.
  4. Alec Guinness, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope1976.
  5. David Prowse, Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, 1976.
  6. Pat Morita,The Karate Kid, 1983.   Columbia wanted the Tokyo superstar as Ralph Machio’smartial-arts coach.His test was great, said director John G Avildsen, juty too serious like one of his samurais.” (Surely, the reason Mifunewas sought in the first place).The suits were aghast when Avildsen suggestedstand-up Morita (Arnold in TV’s Happy Days), 1975-1983).“I never doubted thatI was the right man for the part.I took on a gruff voice, deeper than usual – had no idea where it came from.”Itwon him not just the first film, but all four(the fourth kid in 1993 was a teenage Hilary Swank) plus voicing the ’toon series.  A third candidate, Mako – – Oscar nominee for his debut role opposite Steve McQueen  in The Sand Pebbles,   1965, – was unavailable – making Conan the Destroyer.

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Lee Marvin was perhaps his greatest US fan, They used to call each other by phone, long conversations  with neither one understanding a word the other said. “This guy hypnotises you with his genius. Those eyes! The battered samurai warrior standing alone, not wanting outside help.”  And after they made  the problematic and difficult shoot of Hell In The Pacific: “Mifune is beyond professionalism, he’s even better than that.”


 Birth year: 1920Death year: 1997Other name: Casting Calls:  6