HAPPY HEAVENLY BIRTHDAY, TOSHIRO MIFUNE

The first of April is known to most folks as April Fool’s Day (or Easter this year!) but to some observant film fans it also the birthday of Lee Marvin’s favorite co-star, Toshiro Mifune. Lee Marvin Point Blank readers are well aware of Marvin’s feelings for Mifune.

Original release ad for HELL IN THE PACIFIC, Marvin & Mifune’s only film together.

Marvin’s affection for Mifune was rare for a man of his generation and despite the difficult circumstances during their one project together, their friendship grew and lasted until Marvin death in 1987.
Mifune was a legend in the Japanese film industry, due largely to his collaboration with director Akira Kurosawa. He achieved the rarely seen success of international celebrity in the burgeoning film market of the postwar years, including a handful of American films despite his inability to speak English. It did not matter as his appeal required no words. As Lee Marvin famously said of Mifune: “This guy hypnotizes you with his genius. Those eyes! The battered samurai warrior standing alone, not wanting outside help.”

(L-R) Toshiro Mifune, Lee Marvin, Michele Triola and Mifune’s wife, Sachiko Yoshimine.

Of the one film they made together, Hell in the Pacific is given it’s just due in Lee Marvin Point Blank. Other sources for its production are detailed in director John Boorman’s memoir, Adventures of a Suburban Boy and Stuart Galbraith’s IV mammoth tome, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.  Personally, I found it to be a noble failure as both allegory and filmmaking. Upon the heavily edited version released to theaters at the time, Marvin himself felt the same way but, despite it’s reception,  it remained on of his personal favorite films. It’s not without its merits, chief among them being the two actors’ presence and the eye-popping cinematography of Conrad Hall.

(L-R) Cinematographer Conrad Hall (seated), Lee Marvin, director John Boorman and Toshiro Mifune on location during HELL IN THE PACIFIC (1968).

While Galbraith and Boorman give wonderful accounts of the rigorous production, both seem to lack insight into the one element that seems to accompany any Lee Marvin project, and that is humor. Thanks to exclusive interviews with Lee’s first wife, Betty Marvin and his career-long agent, Meyer Mishkin, I was able to secure several hilarious anecdotes to put in my book that would have been lost to time had they not agreed to open up to me.
Still in all, Hell in the Pacific is worth viewing, if only for the powerful presence of both Marvin and Mifune, two actors at the top of their game in a film personal and important to them both. Watch it again for the great Mifune’s heavenly birthday and when Marvin shouts out “Come and get it!” raise a sakazuki in the great man’s honor.
– Dwayne Epstein

Director John Boorman’s 2003 memoir, Adventures of a Suburban Boy.

Author/Historian Stuart Galbraith’s massive 2001 tome, The Emperor and the Wolf: The Lives and Films of Akira Kurosawa and Toshiro Mifune.

 

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THOUGHTS ON THE AERO THEATRE SCREENING LAST NIGHT

For the second time in as many years, I had a terrific time at the Aero Theatre last night signing copies of Lee Marvin: Point Blank for a Lee Marvin double feature, courtesy of the good graces of the American Cinematheque and Larry Edmunds Book Store. The event came out of the blue last month when programmer Grant Monniger contacted me and asked if I wanted to do it as part of their John Boorman retrospective.

The Aero Theatre Marquee in Santa Monica last night

The Aero Theatre Marquee in Santa Monica last night

Naurally, I jumped at the chance. When I asked what I had to do in terms of getting the books, how many, time to arrive, etc. I was told the time and the rest would be done through Jeff Mantor at Larry Edmunds Bookstore. I had no idea how right Grant was. Jeff did indeed do it all….

Flyer done up by Larry Edmunds' for last night's screening.

Flyer done up by Larry Edmunds’ for last night’s screening.

I arrived, schmoozed with Jeff a bit and watched the crowd shuffle in. Met some folks I knew, some I’ve been meaning to meet via Facebook, and heard a lot of people say nice things about Lee Marvin but they’d buy the book after the first film. Jeff told me “Yeah, let’s see about that.” I was asked to introduce Point Blank, which I dutifully did (I could kick myself for not remembering more interesting anecdotes…oh well). Then came the screening…..

Lobby card from Point Blank showing why it was called the first Arthouse action film.

Lobby card from Point Blank showing why it was called the first Arthouse action film.

True to their word, those who said they’d buy the book did indeed do so after the movie, which was quite a relief considering the schlep to get there from Long Beach during rush hour traffic on the 405. What was interesting were some of the comments made to me, en masse about Marvin:
“What was the year of his birth?”
He was wounded on Guadalcanal, right?”
Where did he do most of his drinking in Malibu?”
“Oh 1924. Yeah, but what was the date?”
“Didja ever see Prime Cut?”
When did he die?…No, the actual date.”
You know about him and Capt. Kanagroo, right?”
“Yeah,  I met him a few times….Real asshole.”
And on it went. In fairness, those were the choice ones that stuck out the most in my memory. Most of the other questions & comments were actually pretty encouraging in terms of both Marvin and several folks who read the book and went out of their way to tell me how much they enjoyed it. Then, Hell in the Pacific, which I really was looking forward to finally seeing on the big screen…..

Toshiro Mifune (left) and Lee Marvin in John Boorman's WWII allegory, Hell in the Pacific.

Toshiro Mifune (left) and Lee Marvin in John Boorman’s WWII allegory, Hell in the Pacific.

It was not as late as I thought it would be by the time the film ended so going home was a breeze. I’m only writing this to say such events are always a pleasure and a surprise when they occur and genuinely hope they keep happening.
Oh, and for the record: He was born 2/19/24, he drank at a bar called The Raft in Malibu (among others), he was wounded on Saipan not Guadalcanal, and Yes I’ve seen all of films which includes Prime Cut ….. oh, and for umpteenth time, Captain Kangaroo did NOTsave Lee Marvin’s life on Iwo Jima. Geez!

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