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Takakura Ken  - A Japanese Legend

Takakura Ken in Kon Ichikawa's 47 Ronin - 1994


Takakura Ken a Cinematic Legend

Born : Goichi Oda ,February 16th 1931

Passed Away : November 10th 2014

Anyone of lets say slightly older years would know of Takakura Ken , a legend in Japanese cinema since the fifties Takakura Ken became a world wide star in the seventies with parts in Hollywood films starting in ''To Late the Hero '' a war film which starred Michael Caine ,Henry Fonda ,set in the Pacific in 1942  . 

Takakura Ken would play the role of the Japanese Major, Yamaguchi.

But for most Westerners his role in 1989 film Black Rain with Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia would probably give him his biggest and widest known role in Western Cinema as Japanese Policeman Masahiro Matsumoto.


But if you like your Japanese cinema your realise that Takakura Ken was one of Japan's biggest stars in the sixties and seventies. 

He became famous as the Yakuza gangster characters he played in many films, a character he would portray in sleeper Hollywood hit ''The Yakuza '' starring alongside Robert Mitchum.

The Yakuza in 1974 /5 brought Takakura Ken to a larger audience 

Funny thing was Takakura Ken never intended to become a film star , after concluding his University studies in 1955 he applied for a managerial job at Toei , he ended up taking a audition and the rest was history.

His first film was in 1956 film Denko Karate Uchi. 

By 1965 he had starred in over forty films and it was then that his role to stardom was sealed with his appearance in 1965 film Abashiri Bangaichi (Abashiri Prison) , the film spawned a sequel as well as a series of later films which went well into the early seventies.


1973 would see Takakura Ken take the lead role in the live action adaptation of Manga Golgo 13 by Takao Saito . 

Often known as the Duke ,Golgo 13 is a international assassin with no identity and a mystery to worldwide enforcement agencies . 

His trade mark is his scoped M16 rifle.

The Manga is the longest running Manga in Japan and has had a Anime series and film adapted as well, a sequel to the live action film was produced in 1977 by Toei with Shinichi Chiba in the title role , a star who starred with Takakura Ken in the 1975 film Bullet Train.


Bullet Train is the film that probably inspired the likes of Speed , a train and it's passengers are held to ransom , a bomb has been planted and if the trains speed goes below 80km/h it will go of.

Bullet train was released in the USA but was heavily cut from it's 152 minute  running time down to a more cinema friendly 115 minutes.But lucky enough both versions are readily available as part of the Sonny Chiba collection of films in both the USA and UK.


1978 saw the release of Never Give Up , which is about a young girl who survives a massacre by the Japanese army in her village .

1992 would see Takakura Ken return for a Hollywood film ,this time with Tom Selleck in Mr Baseball about a American Baseball player Jack Elliot ( Selleck) who gets traded and ends up going to play for a Japanese team. 

Of course the culture shock and new Manager Uchiyama ( Takakura Ken) make for some visual moments in this comedy.

Of course in later years Takakura Ken's output in film slowed but his role in Chinese director Zhang Yimou's Riding Along for Thousand of Miles would again bring him worldwide recognition, Takakura Ken played the role of a Japanese father who has not been in contact with his son since his wife's death , when he finds out his son has cancer he travels to China to full fill a wish of his son.

There are so many films that Takakura Ken starred in , unfortunately most are not available in the West and even though they can be purchased from Japan ,with out a knowledge of the Japanese language they would be hard to understand.

Unlike other stars like Toshiro Mifune ,Meiki Kaji Shinichi Chiba , Takakura Ken's early films have never seen a world wide release on DVD with subtitles.

Takaura Ken passed away on the 10th November 2014 from Lymphoma. He was 83 years of age.

We will be looking at a few of the great man's films the first of which is featured on site right now.

Our first film is his 1994 film 47 Ronin by Kon Ichikawa a award winning film for which Takakura Ken was nominated for Best Actor.

His portrayal of Oishi Kuranosuke ,the chief retainer of the 47 Ronin is mesmerising and shows even in his later years he still captivated his audience.

Takakura Ken is another legendary actor that will be sorely missed, we hope that maybe his earlier films will be picked up for a wider release on DVD ,so more can witness this great actor.

R.I.P. Takakura San


Takakura Ken receiving the Japanese Order of Culture in 2013 from His Imperial Majesty the  Emperor of Japan


Posters - Stills 

  • Abashiri Prison Hokkai hen
    Abashiri Prison Hokkai hen
  • The Yakuza- 1974
    The Yakuza- 1974
  • Mr Baseball -1992
    Mr Baseball -1992
  • Brutal Tales of Chivalry -1965
    Brutal Tales of Chivalry -1965
  • Golgo 13
    Golgo 13
  • Chivalrous Geisha - 1969
    Chivalrous Geisha - 1969
Abashiri Prison Hokkai hen
Abashiri Prison Hokkai hen

Films Reviewed on site

Like i have mentioned above, Takakaura Ken's films are not easily available in the West. 

Some of his more recent releases have seen Western release and of course the Hollywood and co- productions are possible to get hold of if you try.

We will be adding the films featured in our Takakura Ken Special here , Just click the button below the film  Poster to go to the  Review. 

This will increase as time goes on and we acquire more films to review. 


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