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Takakura in The Yakuza (1975).
February 16, 1931
Kitakyūshū, Fukuoka, Japan
Takakura gained his streetwise swagger and tough-guy persona watching yakuza turf battles over the lucrative black market and racketeering in postwar Fukuoka. This subject was covered in one of his most famous movies, Showa Zankyo-den (Remnants of Chivalry in the Showa Era), in which he played an honorable old-school yakuza among the violent post-war gurentai.
A graduate of Meiji University in Tokyo Takakura happened by an audition in 1955 at the Toei Film Company, and decided to look in. Toei found a natural in Takakura as he debuted with Denko Karate Uchi (Lightning Karate Blow) in 1956. Japan experienced a boom in gangster films in the 1960s as the Japanese people struggled with the generational differences between those raised in pre-war and post-war Japan and these were Takakura's stock and trade. His breakout role would be in the 1965 film Abashiri Prison, and its sequel Abashiri Bangaichi: Bokyohen (Abashiri Prison: Longing for Home, also 1965), in which he played an ex-con antihero. By the time Takakura left Toei in 1976, he had appeared in over 180 films.
Takakura gained international recognition after starring in the 1970 war film Too Late the Hero as the cunning Imperial Japanese Major Yamaguchi, the 1975 Sydney Pollack sleeper hit The Yakuza with Robert Mitchum, and is probably best known in the West for his role in Ridley Scott's Black Rain (1989) where he surprises American cops played by Michael Douglas and Andy García with the line, "I do speak fucking English". He again proved himself bankable to Western audiences with the 1992 Fred Schepisi comedy Mr. Baseball starring Tom Selleck.
Although he has slowed down a bit in his older years, he is still active. He has appeared in only three films in 21st century: Hotaru (ホタル Firefly ) in May 2001, Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, by Chinese director Zhang Yimou, in late December 2005, and Yasuo Furuhata's Anata e (To You) in late August 2012, after a six-year hiatus.
Partial filmography 
- A Fugitive from the Past (1965)
- Abashiri Prison (1965)
- Too Late the Hero (1970)
- Golgo 13 (1973)
- The Homeless (1974)
- The Bullet Train (1975)
- The Yakuza (1975)
- Kimi Yo Funnu no Kawa o Watare (1976)
- Mount Hakkoda (1977)
- "The Yellow Handkerchief" (1977)
- Fuyu no Hana (1978)
- Never Give Up (1978)
- Antarctica (1983)
- Black Rain (1989)
- Mr. Baseball (1992)
- Poppoya (1999)
- Hotaru (2001)
- Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005)
- Dearest (2012)
- "Takakura: 'Black Rain' Star Finds His Place in the Sun: Movies: The veteran of nearly 200 Japanese films is likely to gain greater international fame from this one, atypical performance.". Los Angeles Times. 13 October 1989. Retrieved 2010-11-10.
- "Takakura Ken returns to the big screen". Asia Pacific Arts. 08/25/2011.
- Kodansha. "Takakura Ken" (page 1508). Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia. Tokyo: Kodansha, 1993. ISBN 4-06-931098-3.
- Schilling, Mark. The Encyclopedia of Japanese Pop Culture. Trumble, Connecticut: Weatherhill, 1997. ISBN 0-8348-0380-1.
- Ken Takakura at the Internet Movie Database
- Metropolis article on Takakura Ken
- Celebrity File Japan article on Takakura Ken
- Ken Takakura at the Japanese Movie Database (Japanese)