“When you’re about to die, call your mother!”

For Toshiro Mifune’s Birthday

All his life he repeated that the war was nothing more than a “senseless slaughter”...
“When you’re about to die, call your mother!”

Toshiro Mifune’s family moved from Japan to Manchuria long before the start of Japanese colonization. The fact is that his parents were missionaries, deeply religious people, and his father, Tokuzo Mifune, was not only a businessman and owner of a photo studio, but also a preacher in the local Methodist community.

Therefore, the future actor was born in Qingdao, China, on April 1, 1920. After 5 years, at the insistence of his father, the family moved to Dalyan, where Tokuzo soon opened a small photographic workshop.

Toshiro spent his childhood and youth there. He later recalled that at that time Dalyan was a very clean city, with a magnificent, colorful landscape and a touch of cosmopolitanism. Mifune believed that the years spent in that atmosphere helped him later gain popularity in the West: “I never experienced the slightest inferiority complex in front of foreigners.”

He grew up as an independent, active and courageous boy. He practiced karate and kendo, and often fought with neighborhood kids, standing up for his younger brothers.

His father’s photo studio, meanwhile, was becoming increasingly popular and soon all family members helped in the work as best they could. Toshiro was interested in photography and worked for his father until he graduated from high school.

As he himself said in one of his interviews, the profession acquired in his father’s workshop saved his life…

In 1939, when Toshiro was 19 years old, he, as a Japanese citizen, was drafted into the army, where he served for 6 years until the very end of the war. This experience played a huge role in shaping his character.

The service started out difficult. At that time, assault was allowed in the Japanese army and in the recruit camp he often received pokes and slaps on the head from officers who believed that he was behaving too defiantly.

Still, fate smiled on him, and, thanks to his experience working in a photo studio, he was assigned to the aerial photography department in the Air Force. His duties included drawing up detailed maps based on photographs taken from reconnaissance aircraft.

However, already at the end of the war, Mifune, as an instructor, was transferred to the base of the “Simpu Tokubetsu-Kogekitai”, or, for short, “Tokkotai” — special forces assault troops, in Kyushu. This is what kamikazes were called during the war. (The term “kamikaze” came into use much later.)

Part of his job was to prepare young pilots for their final mission. According to Toshiro’s recollections, for dinner he treated each pilot to a dish of “sukiyaki” (thinly sliced ​​beef, tofu, vegetables, raw egg) and talked with them. “At the end, don’t shout ‘Long live the emperor!’” he advised. — “Call your mom. Believe me, there is nothing shameful in this.”

Just before departure, he was tasked with photographing them. Through the lenses of his camera, he saw more young, full of life faces than he could remember.

This experience was so painful that even many years later, when sharing memories of that time with his adult sons, Mifune could not hold back his tears.

All his life he repeated that the war was nothing more than a “senseless slaughter”…

Today the great actor would have turned 104 years old.

Movies with Toshiro Mifune.

Yuri Chekalin

Yuri Chekalin

Yuri Chekalin is a Professor of Tokyo University, History Department, and a Political Analyst.

He also works as a commentator for Fitzroy Magazine.

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