Ken Takakura, Japanese star and Black Rain actor, dead at 83

Ken Takakura, the craggy-faced actor, known for playing outlaws and stoic heros, died of lymphoma on Nov. 10, said his office.

The craggy-faced actor, known for playing outlaws and stoic heros, died of lymphoma on Nov. 10

This picture taken on Nov. 3, 2013 shows Japanese actor Ken Takakura while receiving the order of culture at the Imperial Palace in Tokyo. Takakura, best known overseas for his role as a tough detective in Ridley Scott's film Black Rain, died Nov. 10. He was 83. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)

Ken Takakura, a craggy-faced, quiet star known for playing outlaws and stoic heroes in scores of Japanese films, has died of lymphoma. He was 83.

Perhaps best known abroad for his police inspector role in Ridley Scott's Black Rain in 1989, Takakura died Nov. 10 at a Tokyo hospital where he was treated for the illness, according to his office and media reports Tuesday.

Japan's Clint Eastwood

He surged to stardom after his 1956 debut, becoming an icon in yakuza films such as Abashiri Prison in the 1960s. Much of his appeal to the Japanese public stemmed from his image as a hero fighting authority figures on behalf of the poor and weak.

Veteran Japanese actor, Ken Takakura, is shown in a production shot of the movie Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles in which he played a Japanese father who travels to rural China to fulfil the wish of a dying son. (Edko Films Ltd, HO/AP Photo)
But in a career spanning more than 200 films he sometimes played comic roles, such as his 1992 portrayal of a coach in Mr. Baseball.

Likened to Clint Eastwood, Takakura starred in detective stories and dramas including the 1977 film The Yellow Handkerchief and 1999's Railroad Man, which won him a best actor award at the Montreal World Film Festival.

The news of his death topped Japanese news programs almost nonstop, and major newspapers distributed extras in downtown Tokyo.

Unlike many Japanese celebrities, Takakura shunned the usual rounds of television variety shows and melodramas, maintaining a John Wayne-like aura of toughness.

Japan's 'last big star'

Born in 1931 as Goichi Oda in Fukuoka, southern Japan, he was recruited by a major film production while he was applying for a managerial position.

A worker, bottom, distributes an extra edition of a newspaper with front page featuring Takakura's obituary notice. The news of his death topped Japanese news programs almost non-stop Tuesday. (Eugene Hoshiko/AP Photo)
Takakura's friends and admirers described him as humble, honest and reserved in his real life, too.

"He was the last big star (in Japan)," said Shintaro Ishihara, 82, an award-winning writer and politician. "And yet, Ken-san lived a really healthy, sound life, unlike many other stars who often end up paying the price later on."

Even though he played many outlaw roles in yakuza films, Takakura said today's gangster movies didn't interest him.

Was prepping final project

"I like movies that picture the human heart and linger with me," he told an interviewer of the Japan Subculture Research Center. The Deer Hunter, Gladiator, and The Godfather were among his favourites, he said.

In the 2012 award-winning Dearest, the last of Takakura's films, he plays a retired prison warden who goes on a soul-searching trip with a postcard that arrived after his wife's death.

According to a fax released by his office, Takakura was preparing for his next project while in the hospital.

In 2013, when Takakura attended a ceremony to receive Japan's highest cultural award, the Order of Culture, at the Imperial Palace, he joked that he had often played characters considered most distant from the exalted realm of the palace.

"In movies, I'm most often an ex-convict. I'm grateful for the award despite many of these roles I've played," Takakura said. "I really believe that hard work pays off."

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