best film:  Tatsuya Nakadai currently has fifteen (15) archiveable films and it is almost easier to mention the few (The Thick-Walled Room, Black River) that are not among the best of their respective year. This leaves a whopping thirteen (13) films, if one considers the three sections of The Human Condition as separate films, left to at least consider in this category. Seven Samurai has be thrown out right away. Akira Kurosawa’s 1954 epic is a masterpiece of course, but Nakadai’s contribution is miniscule. That helps clear up the question only slightly of course – but enough to make Kurosawa’s High and Low (1963) the leader of the pack. Nakadai plays Chief Detective Tokura – a pivotal role in support of lead actor Toshiro Mifune – something of a trend for Nakadai in his career.


best performance:  Two Masaki Kobayashi films and one Akira Kurosawa film vie for designation of peak Nakada here. The final answer is The Human Condition. The accumulative work put forth by Tatsuya Nakadai over the nearly ten (10) hours of total running time is just too much for performances like Lord Hidetora Ichimonji (Ran) and Hanshiro Tsugumo (Harakiri) to surmount.  Nakada gives one of the best performances of the year in both 1962 (Harakiri) and 1985 (Ran) – but if one is to split some hairs and break some ties here – the Hanshiro Tsugumo role would have been better played by Mifune (Nakadai drops his voice an octave to attempt it) and Kurosawa just keeps his camera at such a distance for most of Ran – which is a plus for the overall artistic quality film and a the visual elements – but a tiny drawback on the performances – at least enough to give the edge to triathlon of a performance in the Kobayashi epic.


As Kaji in The Human Condition, Nakada plays a moral man – at first idealistic, even hot-headed, naïve (“stubborn” and “fool” in the text) like a Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington sort (though this film goes plays Jefferson Smith never had to go). This film is a journey and Kaji’s story. This is a very physical performance as well – Nakadai’s poor Kaji sure takes a beating.


stylistic innovations/traits:   Tatsuya Nakadai put together a truly astonishing stretch of work from 1959 to 1967 with nice bookends from Masaki Kobayashi starting with The Human Condition and ending with Samurai Rebellion. There are two strong callbacks in the 1980s with Kurosawa (Kagemusha, Ran) but that crazy prolific period includes ten (10) films that are either must see or masterpiece quality (again, counting The Human Condition as three separate films). Nakadai, like Orson Welles or Max von Sydow, excelled at playing older characters. In Harakiri, Nakadai is just thirty (30) years old, and his character has a daughter who is eighteen (18). In Ran, the patriarch Ichimonji is much older than Nakadai – who was just in his early fifties at the time. Nakadai worked often with Kobayashi and Kurosawa – and crossed over with Mifune quite often. Mifune was twelve (12) years Nakadai’s senior. Nakadai would often play the subordinate role when he and Mifune were together (again, Seven Samurai does not count really as Nakadai was just getting started) but he stood up tall and proud next to Mifune (he is the heavy in Yojimbo and it is a complex relationship, one of respect, in Samurai Rebellion) – where Nakadai’s obvious talent was used to counter and accentuate the stature of Mifune. The Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci dynamic comes to mind. Put it this way – this was not a John Wayne with Ward Bond type level of support from Nakadai.


Ran – Nakadai as Lord Hidetora Ichimonji. The entire cast is superb but Nakadai’s achievement is among the best of 1985.  Nakadai’s performance is unsubtle – lots of emoting – almost like a silent film performance — but it is fitting with the film and size of the character and ego. The shot of Nakadai’s Lord Hidetora Ichimonji leaving the burning castle and descending the steps at the 72 minute mark,  with the red and yellow color guards on both sides, is a jaw-dropper – a set piece that has rarely been topped (and draws similarities to the oil rig explosion fire scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s There Will Be Blood).


directors worked with:  Masaki Kobayashi (7), Akira Kurosawa (6)


Nakadai as Hanshiro Tsugumo in 1962’s Harakiri. This is the genius umbrella spindle scene just before the bulk of the action (which is almost all the last thirty minutes of the film). Nakadai plays Tsugumo as a beaten Ronin – a fatigued, former warrior.


top five performances:

  1. The Human Condition
  2. Ran
  3. Harakiri
  4. Yojimbo
  5. Kagemusha


archiveable films

1954- Seven Samurai
1956- The Thick-Walled Room
1957- Black River
1959- The Human Condition I: No Greater Love
1959- The Human Condition II: Road to Eternity
1961- The Human Condition III: A Soldier’s Prayer
1961- Yojimbo
1962- Harakiri
1962- Sanjuro
1962- The Inheritance
1963- High and Low
1964- Kwaidan
1967- Samurai Rebellion
1980- Kagemusha
1985- Ran