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Stuart Galbraith IV: The Emperor And The Wolf: The Lives And Films Of Akira Kurosawa And Toshiro Mifune


The Emperor And The Wolf: The Lives And Films Of Akira Kurosawa And Toshiro Mifune

Author: Stuart Galbraith IV
Publisher: Faber And Faber

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The collaboration between director Akira Kurosawa and his regular leading man Toshiro Mifune stretched across 16 films, all shot in a span of less than 20 years; several of those works are regular contenders for any right-thinking all-time-best list. Though Kurosawa and Mifune drifted apart personally and professionally, neither could shake the other's presence, which makes them natural subjects for a dual biography. Stuart Galbraith's The Emperor And The Wolf is made all the more welcome by a shortage of English-language books on Kurosawa, not to mention a near-complete absence of material on Mifune. Mammoth in size if not in depth, Galbraith's book fills a sizable gap through bulk alone, offering detailed production histories, plot synopses, and critical histories from the beginnings of Kurosawa and Mifune's careers through their deaths in the late '90s. In these areas, Galbraith provides an invaluable service, ferreting out and commenting on masterpieces, minor early works, and late-career beer commercials alike. As long as he remains tightly focused on the "films" half of the "lives and films" equation, Galbraith remains on solid ground, particularly in his reassessments of some of Kurosawa's more obscure efforts, like his nuclear-paranoia drama Record Of A Living Being (a.k.a. I Live In Fear) and his unfortunately neglected final film, Madadayo. Galbraith takes a similarly sharp tack with Mifune, recognizing his strengths as an actor and acknowledging how those strengths faded into self-parody through misuse and financial need. The great biography of the director and his star remains unwritten, however. Though unsparing in the details about everyone who came into contact with Kurosawa and Mifune, Galbraith pays little attention to the world around his subjects' careers, even when that world involves their personal lives. Addressing Kurosawa's 1971 suicide attempt, committed at a low point in his career, Galbraith lets the assumptions of nephew and sometime collaborator Mike Inoue draw the only conclusions: "Kurosawa said to himself if he couldn't keep shooting films, then there was no reason for him stay on this earth." That explanation may seem to justify Galbraith's approach, but it's still easy to wish his book had insight to match its exhaustiveness.