Mifune: The Last Samurai chronicles the career of perhaps the most famous Japanese film actor of all time, Toshiro Mifune. Director Steven Okazaki’s brief documentary provides an intro-level overview of Japanese film history before providing an equally rudimentary snapshot of the iconic, bombastic, and charming man who appeared in almost 170 features (including Rashomon, Seven Samurai, Yojimbo, and 13 other movies by master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa). We hear from a few people who knew him—including some of his co-stars and children—and from a few filmmakers who were inspired by him—like Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg—but the movie leaves us with very little understanding of what made the man tick or why he is such an important figure in cinema.
Especially when compared to Ingrid Bergman in Her Own Words, the other major movie star documentary of 2015, Mifune: The Last Samurai leaves the viewer feeling a bit cheated. It’s great to see all the clips Okazaki assembles, but he doesn’t linger on them enough for Mifune’s amazing screen presence to fully take hold. The one-of-a-kind actor deserves better than this generic bio-doc.