Ken Takakura, born Goichi Oda, is a Japanese actor best known for his brooding style and the stoic presence he brings to his roles.
Takakura gained his streetwise swagger and tough-guy persona watching yakuza turf battles over the lucrative black market and racketeering in postwar Fukuoka Prefecture. This subject was covered in one of his most famous movies, Showa Zankyo-den, in which he played an honorable old-school yakuza among the violent post-war gurentai.
A graduate of Meiji University in Tokyo, Takakura happened by an audition in 1955 at the Toei Film Company, and decided to look in. Toei found a natural in Takakura as he debuted with Denko Karate Uchi 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 and trade. His breakout role would be in the 1965 film Abashiri Prison, and its sequel Abashiri Bangaichi: Bokyohen, in which he played an ex-con antihero. By the time Takakura left Toei in 1976, he had appeared in over 180 films.