On November 10, 2014, the great actor Ken Takakura passed away of lymphoma in Tokyo. He was 83.
Takakura began his career at Toei Studios in 1956 and rose to prominence at the studio before the end of the decade.
In the 1970s, Takakura left Toei and soon found himself as a leading man in many prestige pictures at Toho Studios. One of his most notable roles was in the crime drama Station (1981), which swept the Japan Academy Prize ceremony the year it was released. Station was just one of many collaborations Takakura had with director Yasuo Furuhata, including the award-winning Poppoya (1999) and the film which proved to be Takakura’s swan song, To You (2012).
Like Toshiro Mifune before him, Takakura found his way into American films over the years. His first foray into American cinema was Sydney Pollack”s The Yakuza (1974), with Robert Mitchum. However, Takakura’s best known film in the U.S. is the 1989 crime thriller Black Rain, directed by Ridley Scott, in which Takakura co-stars with Michael Douglas. (This film should not be confused with Shohei Imamura’s Black Rain, which was also released in 1989.) A few years later, Takakura appeared in the Tom Selleck comedy Mr. Baseball (1992).
News of Takakura’s death resulted in nonstop media coverage in Japan. The actor’s face was splashed across newspapers, magazines, and news programs across the nation. Many fans have mourned his loss on social media. American fans of Japanese films have also paid their respects, citing such films as action flick The Bullet Train (1975) as one of their personal favorites.
One thing’s for sure: Ken Takakura is one of the most respected actor’s in Japan’s 100-plus-year film history, and one of the few whose passing could make headlines worldwide. Let us all take a moment to celebrate the life and career of Ken Takakura. But we should also make sure his memory will live on in the excellent films he leaves behind.