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This is NOT Toshiro Mifune


Today we're going to take a quick look at what is either a small and inconsequential mistake or a grave injustice, depending on how fond you are of Toshiro Mifune. Japan's greatest actor, and in the running for the best to ever work on screen, Mifune is a cultural icon, a titan of world-cinema and has rightfully achieved his status as a symbol for the broader trend of great Japanese films from the '50s and '60s, held in high esteem by critics, filmmakers and audiences. Specifically, many coffee table books collecting blurbs and recommendations from the history of film will choose Seven Samurai, with possibly Mifune's greatest performance, as the standard-bearer for a huge swath of celebrated works, inevitably cut to make room for more recognisable Hollywood classics. These reference books do have to sell, of course. So turn to movie number 272 of the 2020 edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die and you'll see a nice two-page spread reserved for Seven Samurai. One side with the poster and a contribution discussing the film, and the other a big shot of Mifune in Seven Samurai, adorned in a kimono and gruff beard, brandishing his sword, ready for battle. The only problem is: that's not Toshiro Mifune.

This is NOT Toshiro Mifune - click to see original

The image is of another of Japan's top actors; Tatsuya Nakadai. Nakadai is in fact in Seven Samurai, in his very first on-screen appearance, though he only very briefly walks past the camera. You might be able to make the case that the two actors look somewhat similar, sometimes, but the real question is whether the image of Nakadai used in the book resembles Toshiro Mifune made up as his character Kikuchiyo, from the film. No, Kikuchiyo is a young buffoon, it would ruin his characterization for him to appear with such a stately beard. Instead he has thin, sharp and expressive facial hair. Their kimonos also appear onscreen as black and the other white, respectively, and for a great deal of Seven Samurai, Kikuchiyo doesn't wear a kimono at all, but battle armour, a key plot point since this was lifted from dead samurai, enraging some of the characters and revealing details about Kikuchiyo himself. You may be inclined to argue that this isn't a problem big enough to warrant a complaint; one book made an error, someone will point it out, it will be corrected and we'll be able to move on. Not quite.

1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die is hardly the only publication to make this mistake. In fact, as far as can be gleamed by looking at only the most mainstream of selections from bookstore shelves, this is the most used image when referring to Toshiro Mifune in the film. From other reference books like Great Film Directors A to Z, to a myriad of slapdash web articles (which don't really need to be held to quite the same scrutiny), to huge publications like The Guardian, far too many people seem to be falling prey to a photo being sold under false pretences. British publications mostly credit Sportsphoto/Allstar, but the number one culprit looks to be Alamy stock photos.

The photo is sourced most often from the Alamy A.F. Archive, where they have titled it: TOSHIRO MIFUNE SEVEN SAMURAI (1954). They provide some more information: TOSHIRO MIFUNE AS Kikuchiyo FILM TITLE SEVEN SAMURAI DIRECTED BY AKIRA KUROSAWA FILM COMPANY COLUMBIA 26 April 1954. A more apt description would be TATSUYA NAKADAI AS Hanshiro Tsugumo FILM TITLE HARAKIRI/SEPPUKU DIRECTED BY MASAKI KOBAYASHI FILM COMPANY SCHOCHIKU 1962. Yes, the picture was actually taken at an unspecified date 8 years after the date currently accredited to it. Two further bits of information stand out.

Toshiro Mifune

The REAL Toshiro Mifune

First; a lengthy declaration of the circumstances under which the photo can be reproduced once you have purchased the image. It reads: “**WARNING** This photograph is the copyright of the FILM COMPANY and/or the photographer assigned by or authorised by/allowed on the set by the Film Company at that time of this production & can only be reproduced by publications in conjunction with the promotion of the above film. A Mandatory Credit To THE FILM COMPANY (AND PHOTOGRAPHER IF KNOWN) is required. ” Well. Most publications that have used the image have used it to promote Seven Samurai, not Harakiri, as well as crediting the studio Toho, not Schochiku. Or by “the above film” do they mean what is written above? You may only use this image from Harakiri if you use it to promote Seven Samurai? And second; “This image could have imperfections as it's either historical or reportage”. They weren't lying.

And that's the real issue here, reportage. The more publications fork over up to $69.99 for an image that isn't even of what they're looking for, the more the precedent is reaffirmed that this is the go-to image for Toshiro Mifune in Seven Samurai. And that's not fair. Not to Mifune, who's role is recognised as invaluable by the very publications misattributing the image. Not to Nakadai and the makers of Harakiri, for obvious reasons. And not to admirers of their work, who only ever get to announce their displeasure with the incorrect choice of stock photo in the odd comment section. There has been a new edition of 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die every year since 2007, and every year without fail, the image remains. This is in all likelihood one of the bestselling reference books ever made about cinema. It's an easy mistake, but also, it would seem, easy to fix.

There are plenty of other images of Mifune as Kikuchiyo on Alamy, some of them even larger in format, available for the same price range as the Nakadai photo. Production stills, shots from the film, in the same aspect ratio to fit the page, which better capture the spirit of the epic. Beware, there are a few more mislabeled photos. Just be sure to have a fan help pick out the replacement. Please.