February 16, 1931 – November 10, 2014
There was a quiet nobility to Ken Takakura. In 1992’s Mr. Baseball, he played a baseball coach trying to inspire greatness out of a pampered American baseball player through understanding and gentle encouragement. In 1989’s Black Rain, he was the reluctant guide of a hard-headed American cop, and his face showed the inner conflict that his character felt as he wrestled between following his gut and following standard protocol. Neither of these films is particularly memorable, but Takakura’s performances in them stand out. His characters are soft-spoken, yet we can clearly see in them an inner struggle between what they are feeling inside and what they feel they are able to do outside. Takakura could non-verbally express these and many more feelings so clearly that words were often superfluous. In fact, had they been uttered, his performances would not likely have been as powerful or memorable as they were.
Mr. Takakura began acting in 1956 and acted steadily until 1995. After that, he made just four movies. IMDB credits him with appearing in a total of 143 films, 3 TV movies, and one TV series. The majority of these are listed by their Japanese title, indicating that they are probably not available with English subtitles. If true, this is a shame.
It is Takakura’s 2005 film Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles, directed by Zhang Yimou, that I am most familiar with. In it, Takakura plays a man named Gou-ichi Takata who is traveling around
in the hopes of making one of his dying son’s wishes come true. It is all he
can do. In fact, the act seems as much for his son as for himself – it is one
of those actions people undertake out of both moral responsibility and deep
lamentation. It is as if he always thought he’d have more time later on. Unfortunately,
time has a way of eluding even the best of us. The film is consistently moving
and at times rather heart-breaking. It is well worth watching. Throughout the
film, Takakura shines, and as always, he does it sans speeches or manufactured emotionally-charged
moments. He does it with quiet nobility.
He will be missed.
November 18, 2014