There have been many films over the years with the phrase “the last samurai” in the title, and some of them would have us believe that characters played by Tom Cruise or Wes Bentley might qualify. But Steven Okazaki’s documentary Mifune: The Last Samurai makes a strong case that the last cinematic samurai was also the greatest: legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune. In addition to following the arc of Mifune’s life and career, the picture also offers a crash course in the history of Japanese film, which has been full of samurai and sword-fights since the dawn of cinema. But Mifune became the most famous of onscreen samurai, thanks largely, but not entirely, to his collaborations with Akira Kurosawa, such as The Hidden Fortress and The Seven Samurai. For a time, Mifune and Godzilla were Japan’s biggest movie stars. (His frequent co-star Yoko Tsukasa rightfully calls out Kurosawa and Toho Studios for only making movies about men.) A worthy addition to the director-and-their-muse documentary subgenre that includes films like Liv & Ingmar or Werner Herzog’s My Best Fiend, Mifune: The Last Samurai‘s one major misstep is Keanu Reeves’s affectless, 45-played-at-33-rpm narration, which makes Harrison Ford’s Blade Runner voiceover seem positively hyper. It’s OK to be enthusiastic, hon.
Mifune: The Last Samurai Not rated. Opens Friday at the Opera Plaza Cinema.