HE PLANTS HIS FEET after taking a few wide-legged steps and grunts his lines. He scowls. He spits. He scratches. Then his gruff, swaggering bravado suddenly gives way to the cowering of a beaten dog. "I hate all wretched people," Toshiro Mifune declares in his famous speech from The Seven Samurai. Yet his character Kikuchiyo's hatred is directed at himself, too, because he's an unwashed 16th-century peasant masquerading as a samurai, only grudgingly tolerated by the six real ronin defending a village against 40 bloodthirsty bandits just "for the fun of it." And what fun they have. One of the great pleasures in revisiting Akira Kurosawa's action-filled 1954 masterpiece is how the seven different samurai will consider the odds and adversity against them, then simply throw back their heads and laugh. They don't look so grim and anguished as certain latter-day action heroes, although they're both a product of and influence upon Hollywood.
runs April 6-13 at Egyptian
In this thoroughly enjoyable series of five Kurosawa samurai pictures, Mifune is always the star and often the clown. As Kikuchiyo, he entertains the village children with his mimicry, connects with its adults with his earthy humor, and wins the audience with his insecurities and bluster. (And, of course, he fights like "a wild dog" when the time comes.) In all these films, Mifune brings looseness and unpredictability to the dour figure of the samurai. In Yojimbo, he's the shabby, cunning ronin who turns two warring clans against each other; then he reprises the same character in the comic Sanjuro, entering his first scene with a big yawn, idly scratching his stubbly chin with a hand poked through the open collar of his kimono. The old SNL Belushi sketches affectionately parodied this mixture of nonchalance and sudden fury, just like the recent Danish film Mifune. Mifune's like Columbo, making false exits and shrewdly lowering expectations—until he draws his sword.