The Japanese actor who starred in a Mexican film

International star Toshiro Mifune played a native man from Oaxaca in “Ánimas Trujano”
The Japanese actor who starred in a Mexican film
Toshiro Mifune starred in “Animas Trujano” - Photos: Newspaper library of EL UNIVERSAL
Cynthia Talavera
Mexico City
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He got off the plane wearing Japan's traditional formal kimono, reserved for special events only, a montsuki haori hakama. He posed for photographers and told reporters he had already learned his lines in Spanish. This was Toshiro Mifune, the international star, the samurai, one of the favorite actors of director Akira Kurosawa, who was coming to our country to film “Ánimas Trujano” (“The Important Man”), a film by Ismael Rodríguez.

In April 1961, Mifune had already risen to international stardom thanks to his roles in films such as “Seven Samurai,” “Rashomon,” “The Hidden Fortress,” and “Throne of Blood,” among others. He received several job offers to act outside Japan but he chose Mexico.

(Toshiro Mifune arriving in 1961 in Mexico – Photo: File archives of EL UNIVERSAL)

“He addressed to all metropolitan journalists a very colorful, brief, and entertaining speech, in a very peculiar Spanish full of Japanese idioms. He told us he had already learned, in Spanish, all his lines for the film 'Ánimas Trujano', which he has come to film in our country,” wrote the journalist of EL UNIVERSAL for that edition of May 2, 1961.

“He's a man verging on forty, tall, dark-skinned, with a long and full mustache and a sparse beard. He resembles a real Mexican native, of those who live in Oaxaca. He was wearing an original and elegant Japanse costume which, he explained, is the one they wear for ceremonies...” added the article of EL UNIVERSAL.

In Mexico, he was most remembered for his role in “The Rickshaw Man” by Hiroshi Inagaki.

Ismael Rodríguez, creator of several national classics such as “Los tres García" ("The Threes Garcías") and “Nosotros los pobres” ("We, the Poor") wanted Mifune to play the main character in “Ánimas Trujano”, an ambitious Oaxaca native with a drinking problem and an obsession with the idea of becoming the Mayor of his town.

According to the edition published by EL UNIVERSAL on May 15, 1961, Rodríguez convinced Mifune to get involved in the project because he wanted an international star that could guarantee the sale of the film abroad. The director even envisioned leaving the original title of the film “Ánimas Trujano” only for Mexico and Japan, but changing the name for the rest of the world to “The Important Man.”

For his work in the film, Mifune was paid USD$10,000 – less than his average wages and for which he rejected projects in the United States, where producers were handing out blank cheques to him.

Why choose Mexico?

“Simply because, first of all, Mr. Ismael Rodríguez convinced me; secondly, because I was eager to work in beautiful Mexico, of great tradition; and thirdly, because the story and character of 'Animas Trujano' seemed very human to me,” Mifune stated before the journalists.

He also mentioned that if Pedro Infante were alive, he would have made the film, but as Infante was gone, then Mifune would film it in his honor.

Shooting began on May 8th in Oaxaca, and Mifune also took the opportunity to meet with then-President Adolfo López Mateos, to whom he gave a Japanese pistol decorated with inlaid work.

(Director Ismael Rodríguez, President Adolfo López Mateos, interpreter Luis Kasuga, and Toshiro Mifune - Photo: File archives of EL UNIVERSAL)

In addition to Mifune, the cast of the film included actresses Columba Domínguez and Flor Silvestre.

"Ánimas Trujano" was the top film at the San Fransico Festival and was nominated to both, the Golden Globes and an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film – an achivement only 8 Mexican films have earned thus far.

“The Important Man” was the first film Mifune filmed outside Japan. Although his voice was dubbed in post-production by Narciso Busquets, his command of the Spanish language was such that everyone believed he was truly speaking in Spanish in the film.

Mifune continued his friendship with actress Columba Domínguez, and in November 1961, EL UNIVERSAL published a fragment of the letter the Japanse actor sent to her:

“I lived with you all new experiences that life only offers in the spiritual and the material. I had the satisfaction of meeting you, Mexicans, in your own land, a land which has given worth to the Mexican people, a people I love and respect as my natal Japan.”


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