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Ken Takakura

Ken Takakura (February 16, 1931 – November 10, 2014) was a Japanese actor and artist best known in the West for his role as a tough detective in Ridley Scott's "Black Rain". His decades-long acting career was dotted with starring roles, often as a mobster or a police officer or other strong, silent types enduring hardship in the pursuit of justice. Takakura was also the first Japanese actor to gain widespread popularity in China. During the late 1970s after the Cultural Revolution, Japanese movies were allowed into China and Takakura's 1976 hit "Manhunt" was among the first Japanese films to be screened in the country and his iconic cool exuded on screen captured millions of Chinese hearts.

Takakura was born in Nakama, Fukuoka. 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. 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. After graduating Meiji University in Tokyo, Takakura attended an audition on impulse in 1955 at the Toei Film Company while applying for a managerial position. 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 in trade. His breakout role came in 1965 playing a ex-con antihero in Abashiri Bangaichi (1965). By the time he left Toei in 1976, he had appeared in over 180 films.

Takakura gained international recognition after starring in the 1975 Sydney Pollack sleeper hit The Yakuza (1974) with Robert Mitchum and Ridley Scott's Black Rain (1989) in which he surprises American cops played by Michael Douglas and Andy Garcia by showing he can speak English. He also appeared in the 1992 Fred Schepisi comedy 'Mr. Baseball (1992)' starring Tom Selleck.

He remained active in his older years. In 2005, renowned Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou directed Takakura in "Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles", which follows the journey of a Japanese fisherman and his dying son as they travel to China in search of the secret behind a local opera.

Takakura died on November 10, 2014 of lymphoma at the age of 83.

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