He lived a good long life but it's hard to imagine someone of the stature of Takakura leaving this mortal coil. NHK's "News Watch 9" delivered a lengthy tribute to him earlier this morning, and in one of the interview segments, the actor himself admitted that a lot of his roles were of the underworld gangster type. However, my image of the man was quite a bit more heroic than anti-heroic. With his craggy face and stoic bearing, he reminded me of Gary Cooper from the Golden Age of Hollywood....especially when it came to Coop's seminal oater, "High Noon". Takakura also seemed to have that attitude of "Look, I don't want to hurt you but if you push me, I will do what I have to do."
Speaking of oaters, one of the movies that was featured during the tribute to Takakura was his 1965 "Abashiri Bangaichi" (A Man From Abashiri Prison), the first in a series of films. It starred the actor as an ideal prisoner in a penitentiary up in Hokkaido just a few months away from getting out when he's forced into an escape by some of the other hardened residents. I mention "oaters" here since the theme song with the same title has an arrangement which reminds me of music that I would hear from a number of the old Hollywood westerns. Written by Takao Kanbe（タカオ・カンベ）and composed by Eiichi Yamada（山田栄一）, Takakura himself sung this ballad about getting out of the titular prison as a humbled human being. From the feeling of the song, there doesn't seem to be anything celebratory; he just sounds grateful to get out while he's still alive.
Takakura released a number of songs over his career ranging from 1958 to 1996.
I got to see Takakura in a couple of his Hollywood outings, "Black Rain" and "Mr. Baseball", but there was also one other more notable flick that I was able to catch years and years ago, "Shiawase no Kiiroi Hankachi"（幸福の黄色いハンカチ...The Yellow Handkerchief）from 1977. Once again, Takakura played a taciturn fellow out of Abashiri Prison (this time, legally) who ended up going on a road trip of sorts with actors Tetsuya Takeda（武田鉄矢）and Kaori Momoi（桃井かおり）. Director Yoji Yamada（山田洋次）from the "Tora-san" series helmed this award-winning film and he brought over a few other elements from that franchise...namely Chieko Baisho（倍賞千恵子）as the love interest and even a cameo by Kiyoshi (Torajiro) Atsumi（渥美清）himself. But to be honest, I really only remember Takakura from the movie, and that's saying something about his charisma, considering that neither Momoi nor Takeda were shrinking violets either.
Ken Takakura was born in Fukuoka as Goichi Oda（小田 剛一）in 1931 and made his debut in movies in 1956. He had been married to the late Chiemi Eri（江利チエミ）from 1959 to 1971.