Mifune

| May 1, 2000

An endearing movie from Danish filmmaker Soren Kragh-Jacobsen, Mifune is the story of Kresten (played by Anders W. Berthelsen). He’s an attractive, young, successful Copenhagen businessman with an embarrassing past which resurfaces at an inopportune time: during a honeymoon. He has just married his boss’s daughter and no one in the sophisticated family knows that the new son-in-law grew up on a backward, country farm with a dimwitted brother, a frustrated father and a chronically depressed mother who hanged herself. Kresten has never mentioned any of this. And he tries to keep it secret after being called back to the farm “on business” to reconcile the household following his father’s death.
Mifune takes its name from Toshiro Mifune, brilliant Japanese actor and star of countless Japanese films. This Danish film references the actor in his role as “Kikuchiyo,” a bogus samurai of peasant origin in Akira Kurosawa’s classic The Seven Samurai, to reveal the theme that ultimately, you cannot lie your way out of the past. Throughout his career, Toshiro Mifune often portrayed a type of character in Japanese films known as a “tateyaku”, a heroic leading man who arose from humble beginnings.
As a boy, Kresten pretended to fight the samurai played by Mifune, grunting and groaning in epic battle with the star, in order to captivate the wayward attention of his older, mentally challenged brother, Rud (Jesper Asholt). Returning home after several years, Kresten reenacts the game. In this playful moment, he effectively wins back Rud’s trust while rediscovering affection for his brother.
Enter Liva (Iben Hjejle), a beautiful call girl from Copenhagen. She has recently been harassed by a mysterious stalker. To escape this terror, she answers Kresten’s want-ad for a reliable housekeeper needed in the country–one to care for Rud until Kresten can find him a suitable home and dispose of the farm. She shows up at the house, appearing for her interview the very moment Kresten moans loudly below the floorboards, fighting Mifune, while the middle-aged Rud scurries around in his underwear.
Bewildered, Liva discovers a kindred spirit in the handsome and desperate Kresten. He is her new john; and working as a housekeeper in the country is her new trick. Both have tried to escape the reality of their respective pasts, yet to Kresten, Liva and the farm soon becomes more real to him than his quickly collapsing Copenhagen life. A romance ensues. Add a snotty kid–Liva’s little brother arrives after being kicked out of prep school), a cadre of backwoods country bumpkins–including Rud who believes he’s going to be abducted by aliens, and a snooping wife Claire (Sofie Gråbøl); and you’ve got quite a farce! Yet this one seems somehow restrained… realistic, almost.
Filmmaker Soren Kragh-Jacobsen took a vow of chastity to direct Mifune. He followed a series of rules which basically mandated shooting the film as if it were a documentary. This is a certified Dogma 95 film. It takes place in real space and time, unaltered by some of the more obvious tricks of the Hollywood trade. No special effects, no lights or musical underscore unless the source is seen in the shot, no flashbacks or flash forwards are allowed.
According to it’s manifesto, written by leading Danish Filmmakers, Dogma 95 “has the expressed goal of countering ‘certain tendencies’ in the cinema today.” These filmmakers are slyly railing against the blockbuster excesses of commercial American films. Films whose global popularity threatens Denmark’s subtle national cinema. Since the super-successful Hollywood system often flourishes by indulging in the hyper-real, Dogma 95 attempts to standardize a form in order to let the naked truth of a good story emerge–to reveal the subtle, intimate details sometimes sacrificed to high-budget action sequences and calculated cinematography.
Mifune is the third product of this manifesto. A tender and funny story told in a refreshing new way, it shows us what results when artifice is stripped away.

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