Mifune plays Tajomaru an infamous Bandit and the one who holds a key role in the story. The bandit is a man we see in four different variations, but first we see the Bandit as he is as he tells his story in front of the court and his version of how the events play out. This version of the Bandit is Mifune unleashed as he portrays the boisterous Tajomaru who revels in the crime as he tells the court about it. This is Mifune at his purest as his daring style fits the Tajomaru who is a man known for doing things when he wants it the way that he wants to do it. Mifune shows no hesitation and goes in this performance with his all even perhaps more so than his work later in the Seven Samurai, it is the full force of his unique style and it is glorious.
As the Bandit tells the story to the court with his arms bound and a defiant glare as he refuses to give even the slightest credit to anyone other than himself. Even as he is tied we see that he still is very much a free man in terms of spirit as he seems to be trying to break from the rope even though it makes no difference as he won't be escaping. It is an terrific display of Mifune's physical presence as it is as alive and thrilling even when he is held in place like this. This is just an indication of what Mifune will do in his performance once we see even more of him as the Tajomaru begins to tell his side of the story that only seems to support his attitude in trail setting which is being the Bandit with a very particular reputation that he is known for.
Toshiro Mifune is just amazing in the bandit's versions of the events which basically makes himself as almost a fantasy character as he tells what happened in the forest. Tajomaru's version of the tale is basically made to be high adventure, and just a fun scheme which Mifune's performance lets us in on the fun even though the fun includes murder and rape. This is a virtuoso turn by Toshiro Mifune every action he takes through the scenes is something to behold all in itself. Mifune basically becomes a wild animal as the wild man that is Tajomaru, and Mifune has such high energy as well as an incredible glee as we follow along Tajomaru as he tricks the samurai into a trap and later seduces his wife.
The bandit's version makes the rape look far more romantic and Mifune plays this version of it as a broad romantic gesture more than anything else as it would appear at least in the head of Tajomaru. What else happens though is the murder in this version he and the samurai duel. Each man stands with pride and they fight in a display of courage and bravery for the woman they each apparently love. Everything seems to be enjoyable in this version and Mifune's performance is immensely entertaining as the events unfold. Everything just seems to be part of his plan. Mifune plays Tajomaru as a man without scruples and at least partially crazy, but in this version there is such cunning there to as Tajomaru seems to get everything he wants.
The woman though tells a very different story and one that paints the whole affair in a far less flattering fashion for Tajomaru. Mifune appearance in this version of the story is very brief but very important in showing the different. Tajomaru technically has a similar style as it should still be at least mostly the same man, but this version is different in the rape was definitely a rape. Tajomaru seemed to play just a cruel game in this version rather then some adventure like the other. In this one Mifune is very effective as we see a similar glee as to the last story but with a distinct difference. In this version we can't enjoy it with Tajomaru in slightest as there is such maliciousness in his smile, and in this one Mifune makes him the true villain doing the act merely for his own horrible pleasure.
We get yet another look into Tajomaru in the dead man's story which is told through a medium. Mifune once again shifts his performance to wonderful affect. This time Tajomaru seems almost to have the moral high ground and Mifune changes his demeanor ever so slightly to suggest this. He is very interesting in his change in this version as Tajomaru's insanity is limited here and there is such reasonable sense in this revision. What is amazing is Mifune's still has this feel as part of the character and is very good in his portrayal of the Tajomaru who seems to have at least some sense of honor in this version. In his expression rather than joy there is oddly an understanding in his eyes as he seems to view the samurai and his wife almost on a higher level as an authority figure there to deal some form of justice.
Then we have the woodcutter's story which is very powerful thanks in part to the performances of the actors. In this version any sentiment is stripped away not one is shown a hero or a villain at least in a traditional sense. Instead we see three pathetic souls brought together. Mifune's portrayal is revised again and in a most dramatic way. In all three of the other stories Tajomaru's had a forceful personality this time though that is diminished in Mifune's portrayal. In this version Mifune portrays the bandit as scared of his implications of what the wife of the samurai wants and when he and the samurai fight it is very different from his own account. The other version of the fight is a particularly striking scene thanks to the set up and the performances.
Both actors are outstanding as we see two men change themselves so much from the first version of the fight where they were two warriors fighting in a true battle here they are two frightened men who try to kill on another in a difficult attempt to protect their pride in front of the woman. The scene comes off as very brutal because we see the fear in each of their eyes as they try to strike the other. They do it not with dramatic lunges and parries but nervous swings and shake as they cower from each other. When the final blow does come Mifune shows it as a pitiful action where Tajomaru seems as afraid as the samurai. After the victory there is nothing but anguish. Mifune makes the wretched nature of the situation reverberate as he ends it not with a indulgent sneer but rather in a fearful anguish.
None of these stories are necessarily the truth but each are possibly a part of the truth. The only truth is when we see the actual bandit. Mifune of course plays it most like the first story, but that makes perfect sense as Tajomaru would of course try to prove his side true by acting accordingly therefore the other stories could be just as true. Mifune's work is astonishing as he is every version of the man even while each contradicts the other. By being believable in every version of it, and suggesting each story as a possible it makes the power of the film all the more palatable. Through his depiction we are allowed to see the variations f the same man the possibilities of who and what he could be, and are allowed to witness the fascinating dynamic that is created through the contradictions of the four versions of the same man.
Toshiro Mifune is one of my favorite actors because he is someone who is able to perform in a film in what is without a doubt a performance particularly how it seems in writing yet he is able to make it completely natural to his character. This is one of those performances that is just a joy to watch act through its course Mifune uses his physical style flawlessly making something special from his gritted teeth, his twitches and every little movement.Tajomaru is made such a memorable character by Mifune as well as a brilliant personification of the different shades of a man that can come from different perceptions. All I can say is I love this performance, and even though I did like his restrained work in Scandal, his off the wall work here was his finest on screen achievement of 1950.