TOKYO (Reuters) - Ken Takakura, an actor known as "Japan's Clint Eastwood" for his portrayal of tough but principled gangsters in over 100 movies and who gained international fame in director Ridley Scott's Black Rain, has died at the age of 83.
Takakura, who played alongside American stars such as Tom Selleck and starred in movies directed by Sydney Pollack and China's Zhang Yimou, died on Nov 10 of malignant lymphoma, his office said today.
A statement from his ex-manager said her died peacefully in a Tokyo hospital. He had been working on a film when felt unwell and entered hospital.
A private funeral had already been held when Japanese media broke the story today, Variety reported.
Born Goichi Oda in Oita city in the southwestern prefecture of Fukuoka, he got his start in film in 1955 when he dropped into an audition at Toei, one of Japan's biggest film studios, out of curiosity.
His characters were mostly the strong, silent types who endure hardship in the pursuit of justice. He became known to international audiences through roles in Pollack's 1975 The Yakuza, where he starred with American actor Robert Mitchum, and the 1992 comedy Mr Baseball.
Among the 205 movies he starred in was 1976's Kimiyo Fundo No Kawa O Watare (Cross The River With Anger), which was the first foreign movie China imported after the Chinese Cultural Revolution.
In it, he played a prosecutor accused of a crime he did not commit and who traverses Japan to track down the leader of a crime syndicate plaguing the country.
It became a wild hit in China. Takakura became an icon to millions of women charmed by his onscreen masculinity.
One enamoured fan was Zhang Yimou, then in his 20s. The Japanese actor's performance reportedly inspired the future director to leave his cotton factory job and join film school.
In 2005, Takakura appeared in Zhang's Riding Alone For Thousands Of Miles, playing the father of an ailing documentary film-maker.
"I created this film to make my dream come true," said Zhang before the movie's premiere, commenting on how impressed he had been with Takakura.
In a statement, Zhang yesterday mourned the loss of his friend, saying, "I still remember his smiling voice and face... An old friend has departed. I am in mourning."
He married Japanese singer Chiemi Eri in 1959. The marriage which produced no children ended after 12 years, and he never re-married.
He won the Best Actor prize at the Montreal World Film Festival in 1999 for his portrayal of an old railroad station master in 1999's Poppoya. His last film was 2012's Dearest, in which he played a retired prison counsellor making a journey of remembrance to the port where his deceased wife was born.
But it was in the 1989 police thriller Black Rain, where he played a Japanese policeman dealing with Michael Douglas in the role of an