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Akira Kurosawa gives Toshiro Mifune a Trim on the Set of ‘Red Beard’

akira kurosawa toshiro mifune red beard
Toho Studios

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Akira Kurosawa gives Toshiro Mifune a Trim on the Set of ‘Red Beard’

Bright moments on the set of Kurosawa’s last black and white film.

Akira Kurosawa is one of the most venerated filmmakers of all time. The Japanese director, known primarily for his all-time classic “Seven Samurai,” was known for using certain actors in multiple films. Toshiro Mifune was featured in 16 of Kurosawa’s films over the extent of their careers, including “Stray Dog,” “Rashomon,” and “Seven Samurai.” “Red Beard,” the movie this behind-the-scenes photo is from, was the duo’s final collaboration.

While very popular in Japan upon release, “Red Beard” was not particularly well received abroad, and never had the staying power of many of Kurosawa’s other films. The movie required two years of intense shooting, being a incredibly detailed period drama. As the film’s title suggests, Mifune had to wear a natural beard for the entirety of shooting. Unfortunately, this was one of a number of factors that contributed to a souring of Kurosawa’s and Mifune’s relationship.

Due to the film’s long, intense shoot, as well as Mifune’s contractual obligation to keep his beard, Mifune was unable to work on any projects during the 2 year production cycle, leaving him and his production company deeply in debt. After the film’s release, Mifune found new successes in America, and was featured in a number of major American releases like 1966’s “Grand Prix” and the NBC miniseries “Shogun.”

Conversely, this was Kurosawa’s last notable film release. After “Red Beard,” Kurosawa ran into problems developing and releasing films, and was publicly bitter over Mifune’s success without him. While this story doesn’t have the happiest of endings, it’s nonetheless enticing to look back at a glimpse behind the curtain of one of cinema’s most influential artists in a fun moment on set with his actor.

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