Sunday, February 20, 2022

Toshiro Mifune at Film Forum: Red Sun

It is often referred to as a Spaghetti western, but since it was filmed in Spain by a British director, there must be some Manchego and Stilton in that pasta. Ramen too, thanks to Toshiro Mifune. He inadvertently helped establish spaghetti westerns, since he starred in Yojimbo, which was remade as A Fistful of Dollars (and sort of Django). Therefore, it was only fair that Mifune got to star in one. It is okay as western go, but the cast is stacked with legends. Mifune will have his vengeance while preserving his honor in Terence Young’s Red Sun, which screens Wednesday as part of Film Forum’s Mifune retrospective.

Link Stuart thought he was robbing an army payroll train with his shifty partner Gauche, but the former Frenchie gambler from New Orleans intends to keep the loot all for himself. Unwisely, he does not verify Stuart is completely 100% dead. On the other hand, he totally kills one of the samurai escorting the new Japanese ambassador to Washington on the train and steals the ceremonial sword meant as a gift for the president.

Honor demands his fellow samurai, Kuroda must recover the sword and return it to the ambassador in seven days. Kuroda also wants Gauche to taste his steel, for the sake of his late friend. Inconveniently, he will need the help of the uncooperative Stuart to track Gauche’s gang, but the samurai is persuasive.

Frankly, there is way too much bickering between Kuroda and Stuart during the first two acts. Just team up together already and get on with it. Nevertheless, Mifune and Charles Bronson (who co-starred in
The Magnificent Seven, adapted from The Seven Samurai, starring Mifune) are perfect as the two East-West vengeance seekers. Bronson is an anti-hero with the emphasis on anti. In contrast, Kuroda is a model of rectitude, but Mifune molds him into a figure of tragic nobility. He really is the only one we root for.

Alain Delon is smooth and slimy as the villainous Gauche, while Ursula Andress actually brings a bit of fieriness to Cristina, the femme fatale prostitute. However, Capucine might even be more seductive as her madam Pepita, who is also Stuart’s sometime squeeze. Plus, Tetsu Nakamura brings dignity as well as his super-employable English fluency to the film as the ambassador. So yes, that is a heck of a cast.

Frankly, the script credited to the battery of Denne Bart Petitclerc, William Roberts, and Lawrence Roman is no great shakes, but Young (best-known for Bond movies
Dr. No, From Russia with Love, and Thunderball) gives it a big look, with some striking shots of the duo riding through the Andalusian mountains. The third act is also rather cleverly ironic, in a appropriately spaghetti kind of way. For added coolness, his climatic action sequence set in a field of tall grass even evokes memories of Yojimbo.

Bronson has better westerns (including the under-appreciated
Breakheart Pass), but it is definitely Mifune’s best. Of course, his Chanbara samurai films are absolute classics. Regardless, the cast is amazing and they throw down in some satisfying old west shoot-outs. It is fun and it should look even better on a big screen. Recommended for fans of the all-star ensemble, Red Sun screens Wednesday (2/23) at Film Forum.