Wednesday, November 19, 2014

In Memoriam: Ken Takakura

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We're saddened to report that the great Ken Takakura, a legend in Japanese cinema and later on across the globe, has passed away. He was 83. Takakura actually made his transition on November 10th, but news was not released until after a private service was held.

The Yakuza, 1974 Ken Takakura was born Goichi Oda in the city of Fukuoka, Japan on February 16th, 1931. After graduating from Meiji University in 1955, he had gone to Toei Studios to look about a job in their offices. On a whim, he decided to audition while visiting a set. He caught on with audiences, with roles that placed him as the stoic and honest outsider who fought on behalf of the oppressed. This would see him sometimes appear in no less than 5 films a year. As time went on, he became a co-star in films with the iconic singer and actress Misora Hibari as well as a defining actor of the ninkyo eiga genre. Ninkyo translates to, 'chivalrous'. In these kinds of roles, the main character portrays a sense of deep honor in fighting against the powerful. Even at the expense of his chastity and his life. The hallmark of these pictures can be seen in their posters with Takakura often showing his tattooed back, his kimono ripped away due to a fierce battle. And he'd usually be shielding a woman he was honor bound to protect as well, whether he was romantically involved with or not. This was a new display of masculinity that appealed to all in these sword epics. Takakura would find super-stardom in one particular movie: Abashiri Prison, released in 1965.

Walls of Abashiri Prison, 1965

This movie's success spawned more sequels and firmly secured Takakura's place as one the nation's greats. As the ninkyo eiga genre got less popular, he wound up being in more yakuza films as well as other dramas. This saw him wind up being a main attraction in the Hollywood film The Yakuza starring Robert Mitchum. Takakura also starred in The Bullet Train with Sonny Chiba which would inspire the Keanu Reeves hit film Speed as well as become the first actor to play the iconic manga anti-hero Golgo 13. And when he was dubbed 'the Japanese Clint Eastwood' it was only right that ONE film wound up capitalizing on it, Drifting Avenger. The 1968 film stands out for Takakura being the son of a former samurai settling with his family in the West and taking on bandit gunmen. It also is notable for being the 1st Japanese film shot in Australia.

Drifting Avenger, 1968

Takakura would continue to have a storied career, even being in Antarctica, Japan's highest-ever grossing motion picture in 1983 and then Hollywood came calling once more. for his skills. He'd become a presence in the Ridley Scott directed hit Black Rain in 1989 starring Michael Douglas, and he got to take on a rare comedic role as Tom Selleck's manager in Mr. Baseball. Takakura would act sporadically from the mid 1990's onward, and was apparently preparing for another role while in the hospital. For his work, he recieved the Order of Culture, Japan's greatest arts honor. Many of Takakura's films are now available to the public via DVD. I strongly suggest you carve out a little time and snag one or two to watch. Thank you, Mr. Takakura.

Trailer for Red Peony Gambler

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