Few directors ever utilized actors as well as Akira Kurosawa did. He spent a huge amount of time and effort preparing his actors with elaborate rehearsals, and would go to great lengths to get them into the correct frame of mind for shooting. Kurosawa worked with a huge range of actors, but often relied on a core group of favourites who would become regular faces in his movies. This section is dedicated to Kurosawa's most interesting actors, and details the films in which they appeared.
Mifune was Kurosawa’s most celebrated actor. Discovered in 1947 by Kurosawa and his mentor Kajiro Yamamoto (during a tense but memorable Toho casting session) and going on to appear in sixteen of Kurosawa’s films. Born in Tsingtao in 1920 to Japanese parents, Mifune lived in China until he was twenty one. During the Second World War he was drafted into the Japanese Air Force and was attached to an aerial photography unit.
One of Japan's finest actors, Takashi Shimura enjoys the distinction of appearing in more Kurosawa films than any other actor. Shimura was born in 1905 and began acting during university, after which he set up a theatre group, eventually signing a long-term contract with Toho in 1943. After that he averaged six films a year for the next four decades. Shimura is best known for his Kurosawa roles, though he is also famous for his appearance in the original Toho classic, Godzilla.
Tatsuya Nakadai is one of Japan's most famous actors and has worked for many different directors in a career spanning six decades. His work for Kurosawa, though, arguably brought him his most acclaim. He played two different bad guys brilliantly in Yojimbo and Sanjuro, and later took on demanding roles as older men in the epics Kagemusha and Ran.
Minoru Chiaki was a Japanese actor that was equally adept at comic or darker, more serious, roles. During WWII Chiaki was director of the Bara-Za theatre troupe, and was later spotted by Kurosawa who advised him to try films. This he did, starting with Stray Dog in 1949. Chiaki is most fondly remembered as the good-natured Heihachi in Seven Samurai and as the comic deserter Tahei in The Hidden Fortress.
Kamatari Fujiwara was another of Kurosawa's regulars who had great comic timing, and was also very good in serious roles. His first Kurosawa film was Ikiru in 1952, followed by the role of Manzo in Seven Samurai in 1954. Fujiwara is also well-remembered for his part in The Lower Depths, where he plays a drunken Kabuki actor complaining about his "Bitol Organs".
The wonderfully charismatic face of Bokuzen Hidari features in a number of Kurosawa films, starting with Scandal in 1950. A comedian born in 1894, Hidari was known among Japanese audiences for playing meek, downtrodden characters. He was also a teetotaller who could play convincing drunk roles and is most fondly remembered as Kahei the Pilgrim in The Lower Depths and Yohei in Seven Samurai. Hidari acted in over 120 films in his lifetime, passing away in 1971.
Born in 1911 in Sapporo, Japan, Masayuki Mori was the son of a successful novelist who became a stage actor in the 1930s. During the war he moved into films, working predominantly for the Toho Company (which Kurosawa also worked for at the time). Mori made two films with Kurosawa in 1945 (the year the war ended), Sanshiro Sugata Part Two and The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail. Mori's stand-out roles are: Rashomon, in which he plays a murdered samurai, and The Idiot, as Kameda.