Kōji Yakusho before Perfect Days

May 6, 2024 8:58 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

After the success of Wim Wenders‘ Tokyo streets-and-toilets meditation Perfect Days (2023), I recount all the times I’ve watched its excellent leading man perform.

A humble person and dedicated actor, “The Japanese Everyman” embodied a diverse array of characters, seamlessly transitioning from inconspicuous to intense. Apparently, Yakusho 役所 (government office) was something he picked up as a stage name when working at a government office.

The charmer next door

  • Tampopo (1985, Jûzô Itami): Supporting role as a white suit gangster in a crowd-pleasing, free-wheeling comedy about the quest for the perfect bowl of ramen.

  • Shall We Dance? (Masayuki Suo‘s 1996 original): A sweet romantic comedy-drama where a salaryman feels his life has lost meaning, until he takes up dancing classes.

  • The Eel (1997, Shohei Imamura): First of a couple of his films directed by naughty veteran Shohei Imamura. Yakusho starred as a man who, after being released from prison, starts a new life as a barber while grappling with his troubled past. Full movie on YouTube.

Kōji Yakusho and Misa Shimizu in Shohei Imamura’s The Eel

  • Warm Water Under a Red Bridge (2001, Shohei Imamura): Lead role in a romantic comedy-drama about a man who discovers a special connection to a woman in a small fishing village.

Kōji Yakusho and Zhang Ziyi in Rob Marshall’s Memoirs of a Geisha

  • 13 Assassins (2010, Takashi Miike): He picked up a katana and our jaws dropped to the floor. Yakusho portrayed a samurai who leads a group of assassins on a mission to kill a sadistic lord. Once again acting as an anchor to a wild director’s vision, he helped Miike deliver a glorious, kick-ass period action epic.

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Yakusho’s prolific collaboration with the legendary Kiyoshi Kurosawa shaped turn-of-the-century Japanese horror cinema with its bizarre, disquieting, detached… and somehow humorous style.

  • Cure (1997): A detective investigating a string of gruesome murders where an ⛌ is carved into the neck of each victim, and the murderer is found nearby, remembering nothing of the crime. A progenitor of the emerging j-horror craze.

  • License to Live (1998): In this less known but no less compelling idiosyncratic KK drama, supporting actor Yakusho played a loner who looks after a coma survivor.

  • Charisma (1999), where he was a detective entangled in a mystical and environmentalist conflict.

  • Pulse (2001): Yakusho only appears in a cameo towards the end, but this is an esteemed cyber ghost story worth mentioning. Widely known as Kairo, it’s an unforgettable claustrophobic horror movie which cranks up the sense of dread and alienation up to 11.

  • Doppelganger (2003): Yakusho starred in this thriller as a man who encounters his doppelgänger and becomes embroiled in a series of strange events. Because of course.

  • Retribution (2006): This one felt like a reflective return to Kurosawa’s genre offerings and was no less enticing than his earlier cult titles. Kōji starred as, surprise, a detective investigating a series of murders that seem to have a connection to his own past. As the evidence points toward the policeman as prime suspect, a female ghost in red follows him, and he starts questioning his identity.

  • Tokyo Sonata (2008): Smallish role, big film. This rare straight social drama from Kurosawa remains one of the best contemporary Japanese films and deals with a family crisis during economic downturn. Yakusho played the mysterious outlaw who kidnaps or runs away with a frustrated housewife (these things are never too clear in Kiyoshi Kurosawa land). The long overhead shot of their escape in a roofless car, suggesting a sense of release, is brilliant visual storytelling.


That’s all I’ve seen so far. Have I missed anything important from the rest of his filmography?

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This post was written by rado

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