Ken Takakura as Ken Tanaka, disciplined ex-Yakuza
Tokyo, Spring 1974
Film: The Yakuza
Release Date: December 28, 1974
Director: Sydney Pollack
Costume Designer: Dorothy Jeakins
The Yakuza was the first screenplay credited to either Paul Schrader or Leonard Schrader, whose experiences in Japan inspired his brother to write the story. Leonard returned to the United States, where he spend the holiday season in Venice co-writing the screenplay’s first draft with Paul, who would later famously collaborate with Martin Scorsese on Taxi Driver and Raging Bull among others. While the brothers watched many yakuza films for inspiration, what impressed them the most was the stoic screen presence of Ken Takakura, the Nakama-born actor who’d made his screen debut two decades earlier.
The Yakuza starred Robert Mitchum opposite Takakura, who played a former yakuza gangster now teaching kendo that finds himself called back into service to repay a decades-old debt to Mitchum’s character, Harry Kilmer.
An action-packed night begins in a dark nightclub as a band sings about the honor of a yakuza, serenading a crowd that includes Harry and Ken. Harry’s exit prompts Ken to head to the bathroom, where a handful of opportunistic “free agent” assassins attempt to corner him. Ken being Ken, he anticipated their arrival and catches them off guard when they ask him to hand Harry over to them. Even after dismissing Harry as “not family” to his face, Ken refuses to give up the American to the killers on the grounds that he’s “family”.
What’d He Wear?
The Yakuza is a splendid showcase for turtlenecks, with all three of its male leads getting plenty of mileage from a rotating selection of roll-neck sweaters.
While the Americans opt for bulkier turtlenecks, Ken Tanaka prefers lighter-weight, slimmer-fitting knitwear that flatters his lean frame. We are introduced to Ken at his kendo school in Kyoto where he wears an ivory roll-neck sweater under his Levi’s trucker jacket to meet Harry, but—once he has taken up the sword again—he almost exclusively wears a black ribbed-knit roll-neck that signifies his return to darkness.
As opposed to Harry’s warm, earthy tones of olive, tan, and taupe, Ken prefers cooler shades like this grayscale-friendly outfit anchored by a gray-and-black herringbone tweed sport jacket over his black rollneck.
Ken’s single-breasted sports coat has wide notch lapels that roll to a two-button front as well as two vestigal buttons spaced apart on each cuff. In addition to the welted breast pocket and straight flapped hip pockets, there is a flapped ticket pocket on the right side. The jacket has natural shoulders with roped sleeveheads and a single vent in the back.
Ken stays true to his monochromatic template with a pair of charcoal flat front trousers that complement the jacket’s wide lapels with its wide plain-hemmed bottoms. The lightweight turtleneck is tucked into the trousers, revealing the large curved silver-toned buckle of his wide black leather belt.
Ken’s black leather “Beatle boots” rise high over his ankles with raised heels and zippers along the inside of each boot.
Ken’s stone-colored gabardine raincoat is his only divergence from his grayscale outfit, though it would hardly be called colorful. The raglan-sleeve coat has five buttons up from the waist to neck with a concealed fly. There are slanted side pockets on the front, a single vent in the back, and pointed half-tab cuffs on the sleeve ends that each fasten with a single button.
Hardly seen under Ken’s left cuff is his steel-cased wristwatch. Its brief screen time all but obliterates any chance for identification, as opposed to the steel Rolex Datejust that Robert Mitchum wore in this movie as well as in real life.
How to Get the Look
The black turtleneck that Ken Takakura wears in The Yakuza communicates his return to the violent side of his personality, as evident with his choice to wear it here with his gray tweed jacket and later with his navy Harrington jacket during his and Harry’s assault on Yakuza boss Tono.
- Gray-and-black herringbone tweed single-breasted 2-button sport jacket with notch lapels, welted breast pocket, straight flapped hip pockets with flapped ticket pocket, spaced 2-button cuffs, and single vent
- Black ribbed-knit turtleneck/rollneck sweater
- Charcoal flat front trousers with belt loops and wide plain-hemmed bottoms
- Black leather belt with large curved silver-toned single-prong buckle
- Black leather inside-zip “Beatle boots”
- Stone gabardine 5-button raglan-sleeve raincoat with slanted side pockets and single vent
- Steel wristwatch
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
If nothing else, this sorrow has brought us together again. I’m thankful for that.