Nearly 20 years after his passing, Japanese screen legend Toshiro Mifune has received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
An unveiling ceremony for the 2,594th star was held Monday [November 14, 2016] at 6912 Hollywood Blvd. with about 125 VIPs and fans in attendance.
Flanked by two men wearing samurai armor, Vin Di Bona of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce said, “Today we’re honoring a man who achieved more worldwide fame than any other Japanese actor of this century, a man who left us with a treasure trove of iconic roles.”
Giving a brief biography of Mifune (1920–1997), who had more than 180 movie and TV acting credits starting in 1947, Di Bona said, “Toshiro Mifune starred in over 150 films during the golden age of Japanese cinema. He’s mostly known for his 16 films with director Akira Kurosawa and has become the archetype of the samurai.”
Mifune appeared in such classics as Rashomon, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, Sanjuro, and Red Beard. In addition to period pieces, he was known for such contemporary dramas as Stray Dog, The Bad Sleep Well, and High and Low.
Speakers included Academy Award-winning filmmaker Steven Okazaki, whose documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai was screened the night before at AFI Fest 2016. His credits include Days of Waiting, The Mushroom Club, White Light/Black Rain, and The Conscience of Nhem En.
“I grew up in Los Angeles, in Venice, and as kids in the neighborhood we played cowboys,” he recalled. “We’d divide up into Sharks and Jets, inspired by West Side Story. But when we saw Seven Samurai by Akira Kurosawa and Samurai Trilogy by Hiroshi Inagaki, we all wanted to be samurai and got our parents to take us down to Little Tokyo so we could get these cheap little wood swords …
“In the 1950s and ’60s, there was no one like Mifune … On American television there was Hop Sing on Bonanza and very little else. And Asians were either not visible or in demeaning, small roles … I can’t imagine an actor who had that kind of screen presence. People always say they thought he was six and a half feet tall, he was so powerful. He was of course much smaller, but his dynamism [made him seem larger than life].”
Los Angeles City Councilmember Mitch O’Farrell commented, “I think it’s a testament to the power of film that nearly 20 years after his passing, Toshiro Mifune will be memorialized for all future generations from across the world … Toshiro Mifune had such presence and his power, his internal life, his truth and his authenticity and his integrity translated into every role he ever did … I am pretty convinced that he is one of the most accomplished actors ever to grace film in any genre and of any nationality.”
He also thanked the Walk of Fame for providing fans “an opportunity to come here and enjoy those that they’re here to celebrate and learn and become educated on the history that is Hollywood. There is no other place like it in the world … This is where it all began and this is the place to come to … partake in the great history of cinema.”
O’Farrell presented a proclamation to Mifune’s grandson, Rikiya Mifune, to show that “city leaders understand the considerable contributions of his late grandfather.”
The younger Mifune, who was the consulting producer for the documentary, made his acting debut at age 7 in a Hong Kong film, Extreme Crisis, studied film production at the New York Film Academy, and has appeared in several Japanese films.
“Next year it will be 20 years since Mifune passed away, and it is great to know that his accomplishments are still acknowledged and appreciated,” he said. “His old films are being digitally restored as well as remade, and we are very glad that there is lots of excitement about this event …
“My grandfather passed away when I was 9 years old, so the memories I have of him are mainly as a grandfather figure. But I remember him as a gentle man at home. He would talk in a gruff and manly manner and always had perfect posture like a true samurai, even at home.
“I was able to discover many things about my grandfather as an actor throughout the production process of the film Mifune: The Last Samurai … The film will begin its theatrical release from the end of the month and I hope everybody has a chance to see it. I would like to thank the director, Steven Okazaki, for taking on this difficult task and I cannot think of anyone more suited for the job. My family and I are very proud of the completed film, and I’m sure my grandfather would feel the same. Steven has been very dedicated to the film throughout the whole production process …
“I would also like to thank the producer, Mr. Toshiaki Nakazawa. He was the executive producer as well as the initiator of this film and he has worked with Toshiro Mifune for many years at Mifune Productions during the golden age of Japanese cinema. And after establishing his own production company, Sedic International, he has produced many powerful Japanese films such as 13 Assassins, Over Your Dead Body, and, of course, Departures, which won the foreign best picture award at the 81st annual Academy Awards.
“I hope that the Japanese film industry will be able to continue producing powerful and globally accepted films, such as Godzilla, [Studio] Ghibli films, and Kurosawa films. I think it is part of my obligation to keep Toshiro’s legacy alive as well as to develop more internationally accepted films that represent Japan. I truly believe in the power of film and that films are borderless and go beyond language, culture, and racial differences.”
Mifune also thanked Hitoshi Watanabe of Tokyo Restaurants Factory, who will be opening a Mifune restaurant in New York in January, “keeping Mifune’s legacy alive through Japanese cuisine”; producer Taro Goto, who helped organize this event; and “all the Mifune fans around the world keeping Mifune’s samurai spirit alive.”
Di Bona declared November 14 “Toshiro Mifune Day in Hollywood.” Taking part in the unveiling were Rikiya Mifune, his father, president of Mifune Productions Shiro Mifune, Hollywood Chamber of Commerce Chair Dr. Fariba Kalantari, Okazaki, Nakazawa, O’Farrell, and Di Bona. A photo of Toshiro Mifune from Seven Samurai was displayed next to the star.
Other special guests included Consul General Akira Chiba and Academy Award-winning actor Martin Landau.
A video of the ceremony can be viewed at www.walkoffame.com.
*This article was originally published on The Rafu Shimpo on November 18, 2016.