8. Toshiro Mifune
SEVEN SAMURAI, RASHOMON, THE HIDDEN FORTRESS, YOJIMBO, SAMURAI TRILOGY
I’m willing to bet there isn’t an actor on this list quite like Toshiro Mifune. The Japanese actor is the on-screen encapsulation of pure id, a wild ball of energy often in the center of a normally very staid genre of historical epics built around themes of honor and respect. The first viewing of Rashomon is a bizarre delight—his insane presence is at first alarming but eventually alluring. He often feels like a person out of time, not exactly fitting an idea of the historical era of many of his films, but he also seems too wild to be a person today. And then you eventually get by his samurai films to see something like High and Low for something completely different. In that film, Mifune plays the corporate head of a shoe company, equally as serious and strong and charismatic, but completely different than the untamed swordsman. Mifune’s biggest collaborator was master auteur Akira Kurosawa, who cast the actor in 16 films, many of which are among the most acclaimed films of all time. There were other great actors and directors working in Japan at the time, but none became as popular among western audiences. No doubt, Mifune’s expressive acting style has a lot to do with that, as it prioritizes his emotional energy much more than dialogue read through subtitles.