“Ken San” is a new documentary about late actor Ken Takakura opening in local theaters next month. Described as Japan’s “greatest” and “last” movie star, Takakura was respected by both the Japanese people who worked with him and international film giants such as Martin Scorsese, John Woo and Paul Schrader. The star quality they identified in Takakura was, as Scorsese puts it, his “presence” both on and off the screen — a kind of “aura,” as one Japanese character actor described it. Though he was just a man, a fallible human, the personality Takakura conveyed in his movies transcended his imperfections, and he worked hard to make sure his “aura” outlived him.
When any Japanese celebrity dies — regardless of their stature in the public imagination — they become subject to closer scrutiny by the showbiz press: old rocks are overturned, secret lovers trotted out, bad family blood spilled. After Takakura died in November 2014, several media reported items that were previously considered taboo, given Takakura’s position in the industry. However, other media continued to put Takakura on a pedestal as the paragon of Japanese masculinity: reticent, suffering, morally uncompromising and, most essentially, alone.