Thursday, July 12, 2007

Kurosawa on Mifune

After hearing O'Toole on watching Rashomon for the first time and seeing Toshiro Mifune, I went back to the section in Kurosawa's Something Like an Autobiography where he describes how Mifune got his first break as an actor

On the day of the interviews and screen tests I was in the middle of the shooting of No Regrets for Our Youth, so I couldn't participate in the judging. But during lunch break I stepped off the set and was immediately accosted by actress Takamine Hideko, who had been the star of Yamamato Kajiro's Horses when I was chief assistant director. "There's one who's really fantastic. But he's something of a roughneck, so he just barely passed. Won't you come and have a look?" I bolted my lunch and went to the studio where the tests were being given. I opened the door and stopped dead in amazement.

A young man was reeling around the room in a violent frenzy. It was as frightening as watching a wounded or trapped savage beast trying to break loose. I stood transfixed. But it turned out that this young man was not really in a rage, but had drawn "anger" as the emotion he had to express in his screen test. He was acting. When he finished his performance, he regained his chair with an exhausted demeanor, flopped down and began to glare menacingly at the judges. Now, I knew very well that this kind of behavior was a cover for shyness, but the jury seemed to be interpreting it as disrespect.

I found this young man strangely attractive, and concern over the judges' decision began to distract me from my work. I returned to my set and wrapped up the shooting early. Then I proceeded to look in on the room where the jury were deliberating. Despite Yama-san's strong recommendation of the young man, the voting was against him. Suddenly I heard myself shouting, "Please, wait a minute."

The jury was made up of two groups: movie-industry specialists (directors, cinematographers, producers and actors) and representatives of the labor union. The two groups were equally represented. At that time the union was gaining in strength daily, and union representatives appeared wherever something was happening. Because of them, all decisions had to be made by voting, but I felt that for them to voice their opinions on the selection of actors was really going too far. Even the expression "going too far" doesn't do justice to the suppressed anger boiling in me. I called for a time out.

I said that in order to judge the quality of an actor and predict his future capacities you need the talents and experience of an expert. In the selection of an actor it isn't right to equate the vote of an expert and the vote of a complete outsider. It's like appraising a gemstone; you wouldn't give a greengrocer's appraisal the same weight you would a jeweler's. In evaluating an actor, an expert's vote should have at least three if not five times the weight of an amateur's. I emphasized that I wanted a recount of the votes with more appropriate weight assigned to the experts' opinions.

The jury was thrown into an uproar. "It's anti-democratic, it's monopoly by directors!" someone shouted. But all of the production people on the jury raised their hands in approval of my suggestion, and even some labor-union representatives nodded their assent. Finally Yama-san, who was head of the jury, said that as a movie director he would take responsibility for his opinion for the quality and potential of the young actor in question. With Yama-san's pronouncement the young man squeaked through. He was, of course, Mifune Toshiro.


62 copies starting at $3.02 on Amazon. Even if you have no interest in Japan, no interest in Japanese film, it is STILL worth reading if you have ever cared about anything you knew a lot about and found yourself outvoted by people who know nothing and care less. I ordered a copy of the Japanese edition from the Japan Centre at Piccadilly Circus, and I worked through this passage in Japanese when I knew no Japanese, because I had to see what Kurosawa said. Better News for Modern Man than the Gideon Bible, I think.


"Post-Google" by TAR ART RAT said...

One of God's stranger creaures, that Mifune is.

Johanna said...

I first saw him in Throne of Blood, the first Kurosawa movie I saw...and I think it was the scene of Mifune fighting the spirits which made it one of those very precious moments of revelation...and maybe made me move to Japan a few years later.