Ken Takakura

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Ken Takakura
高倉 健
Goichi Oda

(1931-02-16)February 16, 1931
DiedNovember 10, 2014(2014-11-10) (aged 83)
Tokyo, Japan
Alma materMeiji University
Years active1956–2014
Height1.80 m (5 ft 11 in)
Chiemi Eri (m. 1959⁠–⁠1971)

Ken Takakura (高倉 健, Takakura Ken), born Goichi Oda (小田 剛一, Oda Gōichi, February 16, 1931 – November 10, 2014), was a Japanese actor and singer who appeared in over 200 films. Affectionately referred to as "Ken-san" by audiences, he was best known for his brooding style and the stoic presence he brought to his roles.[1] He won the Japan Academy Prize for Outstanding Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role four times, more than any other actor.[2] Takakura additionally received the Japanese Medal of Honor with purple ribbon in 1998, the Person of Cultural Merit award in 2006, and the Order of Culture in 2013.

Life and career[edit]

Takakura was born in Nakama, Fukuoka in 1931.[3] He attended Tochiku High School in nearby Yahata City where he was a member of the boxing team and English society. It was around this time that he gained his streetwise swagger and tough-guy persona watching yakuza movies.[4] 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 gangs.[3] After graduating from Meiji University in Tokyo, Takakura attended an audition on impulse in 1955 at the Toei Film Company while applying for a managerial position.[3]

Toei found a natural in Takakura as he debuted with Denko Karate Uchi (Lightning Karate Blow) in 1956.[5] In 1959 he married singer Chiemi Eri, but divorced in 1971. 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.[3] By the time Takakura left Toei in 1976, he had appeared in over 180 films.[4]

He gained international recognition after starring in the 1970 war film Too Late the Hero as the cunning Imperial Japanese Major Yamaguchi, the 1974 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".[1][3] He again appeared to Western audiences with the 1992 Fred Schepisi comedy Mr. Baseball starring Tom Selleck.[5]

Takakura was one of the few Japanese actors who saw popularity in China, due to his appearance in Junya Satō's 1976 crime drama Kimi yo Fundo no Kawa o Watare (known in some territories as Manhunt), the first foreign film shown after the Cultural Revolution.[6]

He appeared in three films since 2000: Hotaru (ホタル, The 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 (Dearest) in late August 2012, after a six-year hiatus.[7] He died of lymphoma on November 10, 2014.[8][2] Shintaro Ishihara described him as "the last big star (in Japan)."[9] A huge number of Chinese internet users expressed their sympathies and condolences, including many celebrities in the Chinese movie industry.[10] The spokesman of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs Hong Lei said that Takakura made significant contributions to the cultural exchange between China and Japan.[11]

A documentary based on Takakura's life entitled Ken San premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival and was released in Japanese theaters on August 20, 2016.[12] It was directed by photographer Yuichi Hibi and features interviews with filmmakers and actors such as Martin Scorsese, Paul Schrader, Michael Douglas, John Woo, and Yoji Yamada.[13]

Partial filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Director Notes Ref(s)
1963 Theater of Life: Hishakaku Tadashi Sawashima Lead role
1964 Jakoman and Tetsu Tetsu Kinji Fukasaku Lead role
Wolves, Pigs and Men Jirō Kinji Fukasaku
1965 A Fugitive from the Past Detective Ajimura Tomu Uchida
Abashiri Prison Teruo Ishii Lead role
1968 The Drifting Avenger Junya Sato Lead role
1970 Too Late the Hero Major Yamaguchi Robert Aldrich Anglo-American film
1973 Golgo 13 Golgo 13 Junya Sato Lead role
Yamaguchi-gumi Sandaime Kazuo Taoka Kōichi Saitō Lead role
1974 The Homeless Kōichi Saitō Lead role
1975 The Bullet Train Junya Sato Lead role
The Yakuza Sydney Pollack American film
1976 Kimi yo Fundo no Kawa o Watare Junya Sato Lead role
1977 Mount Hakkoda Captain Tokushima Shirō Moritani Lead role
The Yellow Handkerchief Yusaku Shima Yoji Yamada Lead role
1978 Never Give Up Junya Sato Lead role
1980 A Distant Cry from Spring Kōsaku Tajima Yoji Yamada Lead role
Dōran Shirō Moritani Lead role
1981 Station Eiji Mikami Yasuo Furuhata Lead role
1983 Izakaya Chōji Chōji Yasuo Furuhata Lead role
Antarctica Akira Ushioda Koreyoshi Kurahara Lead role
1985 Yasha Shūji Yasuo Furuhata Lead role
1989 Aun Shūzō Kadokura Yasuo Furuhata Lead role
Black Rain Masahiro Matsumoto Ridley Scott American film
1992 Mr. Baseball Uchiyama Fred Schepisi American film
1994 47 Ronin Ōishi Kuranosuke Kon Ichikawa Lead role
1998 See You Honma Koreyoshi Kurahara Lead role
1999 Railroad Man Otomatsu Satō Yasuo Furuhata Lead role
2001 The Firefly Yasuo Furuhata Lead role
2005 Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles Zhang Yimou Lead role, Chinese film
2012 Dearest Eiji Kurashima Yasuo Furuhata Lead role


Takakura (far right) received the Order of Culture on November 5, 2013.
  • 2013


  1. ^ a b Thomas, Kevin (13 October 1989). "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. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  2. ^ a b c "Cinema Star Takakura Ken Passes Away at 83". 18 November 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  3. ^ a b c d e Macy, Roger (18 November 2014). "Ken Takakura obituary". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  4. ^ a b Hoover, William D. (2011). Historical dictionary of postwar Japan. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press. p. 301. ISBN 0810854600.
  5. ^ a b Mayer, Geoff (2012). Historical dictionary of crime films. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press. pp. 359–360. ISBN 0810867699.
  6. ^ "China mourns death of Japanese actor Takakura". Yahoo! News. Yahoo! News. Retrieved 12 May 2016.
  7. ^ Sharp, Jasper (2011). Historical dictionary of Japanese cinema. Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press. pp. 232–234. ISBN 0810875411.
  8. ^ "Veteran Japanese actor Ken Takakura dies at 83". BBC News. 18 November 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  9. ^ "Ken Takakura, Japanese star and Black Rain actor, dead at 83". CBC. 18 November 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  10. ^ "日本男星高仓健去世引众星悼念 姚晨:别了杜秋". Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  11. ^ "2014年11月18日外交部发言人洪磊主持例行记者会". Retrieved 1 October 2018.
  12. ^ Brasor, Philip. "Why Japanese media still kowtow to Ken Takakura". The Japan Times. The Japan Times. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  13. ^ Deleon, Alex. "KEN SAN, A towering documentary from Japan was thinly Attended at Cannes". FilmFestivals. M21 Entertainment. Retrieved 15 August 2016.
  14. ^ "Nippon Akademī-shō kōshiki saito" 日本アカデミー賞公式サイト (in Japanese). Japan Academy Prize Association. Retrieved 19 November 2014.
  15. ^ "Dai 37 kai Nippon Akademī-shō kōshiki saito" 第37回日本アカデミー賞協会栄誉賞 [37th Japan Academy Prize List] (in Japanese). Japan Academy Prize Association. Retrieved 17 April 2017.
  16. ^ "Burū Ribon-shō rekidai jushō ichiran" ブルーリボン賞歴代受賞一覧 [Blue Ribbon Awards Previous Winners List]. Cinema Hochi (in Japanese). Yomiuri Shimbun. Archived from the original on 3 February 2013. Retrieved 20 November 2014.
  17. ^ Nakada, Ayako; Shima, Yasuhiko (4 November 2013). "Actor Ken Takakura among 5 presented with top culture award". Asahi Shimbun. Archived from the original on 29 November 2014. Retrieved 19 November 2014.

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