Here's what Badass of the Week says about him: All you need is one look at Toshiro Mifune to know that he's fucking serious. He's coarse, he's gruff, he's confident, he doesn't take any fucking shit from anyone and he's got the sort of commanding presence that forces you to respect the fact that he could kick your ass fifteen ways from Thursday afternooon and not even break a sweat. He comes into town, he fucks up anybody who looks at him funny, he gets it on with some random babe, and then he walks off into the sunset in search of adventure and more asses that need to be kicked by him.
Honestly, masculinity is a bit of a vague concept to me. I have no idea what standards are required for being a man.
I guess people think of Yojimbo's Sanjuro Kuwabatake. He is powerful, intimidating and introverted. Unflinchingly strong and incredibly charismatic, he is the male fantasy that cinema fans everywhere look up to, and seems to represent all of the roles in his career.
Maybe masculinity is just all about being physically strong and emotionally brave.
Let's look at his other roles.
In Throne of Blood, Washizu is simply all bluster. Though he acts macho, and holds position of Lord, his wife has him wrapped around her little finger, and in the grand scale of things, though he is a skilled warrior, he is gullible and ineffectual. But of course, this has nothing to do with masculinity, just being a plain old human being. We appreciate Washizu as a character anyway. His strength, as you know, is in how complicated and interesting he is. And to the public, that makes him a man.
Takezo Shinmen and Kikuchiyo
Takezo from Samurai I: Musashi Miyamoto and Kikuchiyo from Seven Samurai are very similar characters. They do have the fighting prowess and sexual magnetism to prove their masculinity, and they are feisty and temperamental. They like to show off and compete. And as Robert Webb puts it, "If [your emotions have] to come out at all, let it come out as anger. You’re allowed to be angry. It’s boyish and man-like to be angry.”
Indeed it's no wonder that these two are perceived as dominant symbols "of Japanese masculinity"; they are both emotionally open and emotionally honest. Of course, they don't identify their feelings verbally, but they express them in front of people. In Musashi Miyamoto, Takezo is angry, frustrated with the world, and cries about eight times, from being stuck in a difficult situation where the people from his village hunt down and kill the losers of the war he fought in (he was on the losing side), and from the shame of his foolishness hurting other people, such as his capture causing Otsu to injure her hands rescuing him.
In Seven Samurai, Kikuchiyo displays his pain and grief about the peasants' plight in front of the other samurai, and even more prominently broke down when he helped to save a child who had been through the exact same thing as him.
These characters show their masculinity not just through physical strength but by having the courage to display feelings one usually fears, shame and grief, respectively.
Unfortunately, Kikuchiyo doesn't open up about his insecurity, and the weakness of pride prevails.
Yamato Takeru and Susanoo
Yamato Takeru from The Three Treasures is emotional. Like Susanoo, Kikuchiyo and Takezo, he's brave enough to display his feelings, but unlike the others he knows what they are and is unafraid to identify them. When he meets his aunt, Princess Yamato, she tells him how proud she is for defeating the Kumaso brothers and being sent to the Ainu in the East. Yamato Takeru says, "I'm sad. I can't stand this.", because he was sent with only a few men, and begins to be convinced that his father hates him.
He is admired for being in a position of power. He commands a small group of men on his journeys and is a figure of authority, and throughout he never loses this.
Susanoo is physically strong and unafraid to be emotional. When he mourns over his mother, he howls "You don't love me!", beats the ground and soaks up all the water from the Earth. Princess Yamato uses this as an example when she berates Yamato Takeru for bursting into tears in front of her, but of course, it doesn't make sense, since we know that Yamato Takeru is brave for opening up to her. Plus, Susanoo is the one who reformed and defeated Orochi, but maybe that's the point she was making after all, that Yamato Takeru is also a trouble maker capable of great heroics. Anyway, she says, "Stop being weak". Again, how does that make sense? Was she calling Susanoo weak?
Less remembered but an important role, Kiichi Nakajima from I Live In Fear.
Nakajima is the elderly patriarch of a family who owns a foundry. He fears the bombs but is too proud to admit it. He's not physically strong, but has a youthful energy and appears furious at himself for being trapped in a weak and decaying body. We appreciate him as a character, like Washizu, because of the strength of his inner conflict. He's pathetic, manipulative and tragic. But that's what's so compelling about him. It makes him a man, right?
Physically strong but emotionally weak, Tajomaru from Rashomon, again, seems to mostly be bluster. He's physically strong, of course, but he hides the truth by pretending that he's greater than he actually is. The woodcutter claims that he was a coward in battle, and if you're inclined to believe the dead husband, he's just kind of a thuggish bum. He's very complex in ways that I find difficult to describe. They certainly find him very macho. He kidnaps a man and overpowers a woman, then, according to the husband's story, refuses to kill him for her. Possibly. Who knows what the truth is?
Inexperienced with a sword but doing fine anyway, Mataemon Araki in Vendetta for a Samurai is cool because he's the leader of a small band out for revenge, even though he's just a bodyguard and has no choice in the matter. He's a good strategist anyway.
What makes him so strong is, again, his inner turmoil about killing his friend. He's not covered in glory when he finally does, but evidently his audience doesn't mind.
On second thoughts, maybe masculinity is about emotional repression, and most of these characters re-define and re-examine masculinity...