Late actor Ken Takakura made secret prison visits

Late actor Ken Takakura made secret prison visits

Actor Ken Takakura, who died on Nov 10 at the age of 83, visited many prisons around the country and gave inspiring speeches to inmates over a period of 30 years on the condition that his visits would never be publicized as long as he was alive.

"Please remember your loved ones and straighten yourself out as quickly as possible," Takakura was quoted as telling the inmates when he visited the prisons on days when he wasn't filming.

Takakura began visiting the prisons initially after a request by his former classmate Minoru Shikita, 82, of Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Shikita is known as a prosecutor well-versed in international affairs, who served at various posts including director at the United Nations Asian and Far East Institute for the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment of Offenders.

He retired in 1995 after serving the post of superintendent public prosecutor at the Nagoya High Public Prosecutors Office.

Shikita and Takakura, whose real name was Goichi Oda, were good friends at Tochiku High School in Kitakyushu and referred to one another as "Go-chan" and "Minoru-san."

Even after attending different universities, the two remained friends and often spent time relaxing together - visiting public baths, for example.

In earlier days, Takakura told Shikita his dream of becoming an actor.

Shikita encouraged Takakura, telling him he would certainly become a great actor in the future because he was handsome and straightforward.

Even after Takakura became a famous actor and Shikita became a prosecutor, they remained close, as did their family members.

Shikita was moved to tears while watching a scene of a reunion between a former inmate, played by Takakura, and his wife, who had long awaited his release in the 1977 film "The Yellow Handkerchief of Happiness."

Then, when he became head of the Correction Bureau of the Justice Ministry in 1986, Shikita asked Takakura to give a speech at a prison.

Shikita said he thought the words of "Go-chan" would certainly reach the hearts of inmates and help them reform themselves.

Takakura readily accepted his request. When he visited the first prison with Shikita, Takakura was a little nervous, wondering what kind of speech he should give to inmates.

However, he began talking enthusiastically after he stood in front of a large group of inmates.

"You are here for various reasons," Takakura was quoted as telling the inmates.

"But please remember the people important to you and your benefactors. Please straighten yourselves up as quickly as possible for their sake, and return favors to them."

Shikita said he still remembers the faces of young inmates who were about to cry at Takakura's speech.

Though Takakura continued visiting the prisons after that, there were no official records left by either Takakura's agency or the Justice Ministry.

However, according to sources close to him, it is certain that Takakura kept making visits at prisons even after Shikita was transferred from the correction bureau in 1987.

For instance, an officer at the Kawagoe Juvenile Prison in Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, recorded in his notebook that Takakura visited there in July 1990.

Shikita said it was typical of Takakura, who was honest and humble, to keep the visits secret.

Takakura visited Toyama Prison in Toyama in 2012 to give a speech to the inmates. The prison was a shooting location for his last film, "Anata e" (Dearest).

The visit was publicized, but it was little known that Takakura had visited many prisons before that.

"Go-chan often said that how you can start all over again, after making a mistake, is most important," Shikita said, recalling the thoughts of his old friend.

"As many times as he played roles of characters who committed crimes, he was perhaps thinking seriously about how inmates can rejoin society."

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