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Tea Leaves

The first samurai: How a Japanese actor created the 'macho' role model

Toshiro Mifune's portrayal in 'Yojimbo' inspired American spaghetti westerns

Sixty years ago this month, one of my favorite films hit the cinema screens for the first time. "Yojimbo," directed by Akira Kurosawa and starring the inimitable Toshiro Mifune, was an instant success in Japan and was to become hugely influential worldwide.

The film gave birth to the spaghetti western genre. Indeed, Italian director Sergio Leone had to compensate Kurosawa for plagiarizing the story in "A Fistful of Dollars," the film that established Clint Eastwood as a major star. In movie after movie, Eastwood's spaghetti western persona drew heavily on the disheveled, toothpick-gnawing ronin ("masterless samurai") that Mifune so memorably portrayed.

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