The Samurai’s MG
In 2017, on the 20th anniversary of Japanese movie star Toshiro Mifune’s death in 1997, an exhibition entitled The World Famous Mifune was held at Tokyu Department store in Shibuya, Tokyo. Star exhibit was Mifune’s beloved MG TD.
This exhibition was held to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Mifune’s debut in movies. He appeared in around 150 films.
An important aspect of Mifune’s 77-year life was his attachment to his MG TD. Until his death Mifune was a member of the MGCC Japan Centre, which has for a long time been affiliated to the UK MG Car Club.
Mifune’s liking for British cars also included his ownership of a 1962 Rolls Royce Silver Cloud, but it was the TD in which he was seen frequently on the streets of Tokyo and commuting to film studios. He owned the 1952 model for about 45 years and it is now in the family trust.
For those not familiar with Japanese-genre movies, Toshiro Mifune was the best known Japanese actor and during his most creative years he worked mainly with what many regard as Japan’s finest film director – Akira Kurosawa.
Mifune starred in Kurosawa’s Yojimbo (1961) as a ronin (a wandering Samurai with no master). This man with no name appears out of the blue in trouble spots and disposes of villains with expert swordsmanship and trickery, then disappears just as mysteriously.
The samurai character was the basis of many subsequent films of the same genre. It should be no surprise that Yojimbo’s producers successfully sued the Hollywood producers of A Fistful of Dollars. While Clint Eastwood – who had seen Yojimbo – was careful not to emulate directly Mifune’s acting style, nevertheless as the trilogy developed Eastwood became more silent, stoic, and mysterious, in the same way as the Kurosawa character.
The parallel is that while Mifune’s acting career was greatly helped by the Samurai films, Eastwood’s was actually started by the Hollywood equivalent.
Toshiro Mifune appeared in three western-produced movies – Hell in the Pacific(1968), Midway (1976), and Grand Prix (1966). In Grand Prix, Mifune’s character is said to represent Soichiro Honda. The star was James Garner, but there were cameo appearances by Graham Hill, Phil Hill, Juan Fangio, Jim Clark, Dan Gurney, Bruce McClaren, Jack Brabham and Jochen Rindt.
In the spring of 2018, a documentary movie Mifune: The Last Samurai was released. This movie includes interviews with many Japanese and foreign movie people who worked with or were influenced by Mifune’s appearances in films. Some versions are on YouTube.