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
Fans of ’70s action would no doubt appreciate The Yakuza, Paul Schrader’s debut screenplay, co-written with his brother Leonard Schrader based on Leonard’s own experiences in Japan. A driving factor that compelled the brothers to finish their initial script was the stoic screen presence of Ken Takakura, who appeared in the film as the ex-akuza gangster who now teaches kendo.
Ken takes up his sword as part of his giri with Harry Kilmer (Robert Mitchum), formerly a U.S. Marine MP who had dated Ken’s sister while serving in Tokyo during the post-WWII occupation of Japan. Loosely defined as a lifelong debt that can never truly be repaid, the giri concept is central to The Yakuza, in which Ken describes it to Harry as “the burden hardest to bear” and refuses to rid himself of his obligation even when Dusty (Richard Jordan) suggests that the nature of his debt is relatively arbitrary.
Having arrived in Japan in search of his associate’s kidnapped daughter, Harry seeks out Ken’s assistance, but the blood they spill rescuing the young woman results in Yakuza contracts placed on both Harry and Ken, a threat that can only be eliminated by Ken killing the powerful gangster Tono (Eiji Okada) with a sword. While Harry arms himself with a .45 and a double-barreled shotgun, Ken takes a katana to appropriately exact his vengeance on the dangerous crime boss.
What’d He Wear?
Every few months, I like to check in on the appearance of a classic “Harrington jacket” in the movies, whether a genuine Baracuta as favored by Steve McQueen, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra, or a modern evolution like the Tom Ford jacket worn by Daniel Craig in his sophomore 007 adventure Quantum of Solace.
Despite his adherence to Japan’s longstanding values and culture, Ken Tanaka enthusiastically incorporates iconic western style into his wardrobe, including lounge suits, a tweed sports coat, and even a Levi’s denim trucker jacket in addition to his traditional Japanese garments. For this climactic assault where he carries a classic katana rather than a modern firearm, Ken still dresses in a more western-informed ensemble of a Harrington jacket, black turtleneck, stone chinos, and “Beatle boots”.
Ken’s navy weatherproofed cotton jacket is most assuredly an authentic Baracuta G9, based on the style, cut, and the signature Fraser tartan plaid lining seen when the jacket is partially unzipped or being cut away from his body. The jacket has a two-button standing collar with an extended throat closure tab, slanted hand pockets with a single-button flap, and raglan sleeves with ribbed-knit cuffs that match the ribbed knitting around the waist hem. The back is detailed with the classic “umbrella”-style yoke.
More than 80 years after their introduction, Baracuta still offers the G9 in a variety of colors and cloths including the navy cotton/poly blend as worn by Takakura in The Yakuza, available in both G9 Classic (via Amazon and Baracuta) and G9 Archive “Authentic” (via Baracuta) fits.
The Baracuta story dates back to 1930s England, where brothers John and Isaac Miller introduced their innovative windbreaker for golfers—the “G” in G9 refers to golf—with weather-proof styling and a fit designed to stay close to a wearer’s body while allowing a full range of arm movement, whether swinging a golf club or katana.
In addition to featuring great actors and great action, The Yakuza is filled with great turtlenecks. Consistent with his quiet, somber character, Ken Tanaka favors muted jumpers like this black turtleneck as opposed to Harry, whose rollnecks run the gamut from a timeless gray to a golden tan as was quite fashionable mid-’70s. Ken’s black turtleneck appears to be knitted in a fine cloth like merino wool.
Ken’s jacket and turtleneck get cut away from him in the heat of battle, leaving him stripped down to his trousers and boots.
Ken wears light stone-colored flat front chinos with a long rise, slanted front pockets, and a button-through back left pocket, though some production stills appear to depict Ken wearing trousers with two back pockets. The straight-leg trousers are finished with plain-hemmed bottoms. He wears them with a thick dark brown leather belt with a brass-toned single-prong buckle.
Ken wears his usual black leather ankle boots with their inside-zip closure and raised heels similar to the Cuban-heeled “Beatle boots” that were popularized by the Fab Four over the previous decade, though they have a more conventional rounded toe rather than the pointed toe favored by John, Paul, George, and Ringo. Ken wears his boots with black socks.
Given what happens to his jacket and turtleneck, Ken wisely forewent wearing his wristwatch as it would have undoubtedly suffered some katana damage or hindered his own swordsmanship.
How to Get the Look
Even when not facing battle with teams of expert Japanese swordsmen, Ken’s accessible ensemble of navy Harrington jacket, black turtleneck, stone chinos, and ankle boots makes for a timeless and tasteful weekend casual look.
- Navy waterproof cotton Baracuta G9 zip-up blouson-style “Harrington jacket” with two-button standing collar, slanted hand pockets with single-button flaps, ribbed knit cuffs and hem, and red Fraser tartan plaid lining
- Black merino wool turtleneck sweater
- Stone-colored chino cloth flat front trousers with belt loops, front pockets, button-through back left pocket, and plain-hemmed bottoms
- Dark brown leather belt with large curved brass-toned single-prong buckle
- Black leather inside-zip ankle boots
- Black socks
Do Yourself a Favor and…
Check out the movie.
The water changes always, but the river…