Sunday, December 23, 2007

Oscar Snubs: Toshiro Mifune

Toshiro Mifune: Actor.

Selected movies: The Hidden Fortress, Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Throne of Blood, Yojimbo, The Life of Oharu, Downtown, Theater of Life, Red Sun, Winter Kills.

Oscars: Zero.

Oscar Nominations: Zero.

Toshiro Mifune died ten years ago this December 24th. His career was long and varied but his greatest performance for me came in Yojimbo. Made in 1961 by acclaimed director Akira Kurosawa it both gives and takes from the Western genre: It's landscapes, crime lords and desolation clearly borrow from the genre while its virtual creation of the future Clint Eastwood "Man with No Name" persona invents something new. Mifune is terrific as the ronin, or bodyguard, who turns the crime lords against one another until peace is restored. It's a great role greatly played but Mifune made movies in Japanese and the Academy isn't known for its graciousness when selecting performances across the language lines. It's happened (Sophia Loren, Two Women; Robert DeNiro, The Godfather, Part II and Roberto Benigni, Life is Beautiful) but it's rare. When he finally got around to making movies in English they were, more often than not, war bores like Midway or Inchon in which Mifune could play the one dimensional Japanese nemesis.

Mifune was a great actor and received acolades throughout his career including two Best Actors from the Venice Film Festival, one for Yojimbo and the other in 1965 for Akahige. But he never got an Oscar. Hell, he never even got a nomination. He did win one American trophy, the Emmy for his work in Shogun. But with a career as long and impressive as his, that just wasn't enough. His is one of the great snubs of all time. And yet when you look at the body of work that emcompassed his career there are no regrets, no tinges of pity. Long after the Oscars given to so many lesser performers are forgotten the world will still remember Yojimbo. And Rashomon. And Throne of Blood. And Toshiro Mifune. It's easy really. He's unforgettable.