best film:  Ken Ogata may be missing that all-time top 100 film – but Vengeance is Mine (1979), The Ballad of Narayama (1983) – both with Shōhei Imamura – are just a step or half-step below that masterpiece level. This leaves Paul Schrader’s highly ambitious Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters (1985) as Ogata’s single best film. The three (3) films combine to make this a very decent category for Ogata. Unfortunately, by the time Ogata connected with genius auteur Peter Greenaway (The Pillow Book – 1996) – the director’s best work was behind him so this film is not a serious contender for this category. Behind the camera, Schrader’s film (for what it is worth, Schrader himself considers this his best film as a director) has an all-star team with Philip Glass providing the luminous score and John Bailey as director of photography. In front of the camera, Ken Ogata gives the best performance in the film. He plays the titular Yuko Mishima, but the story is told in flashback and splintered in such a way that it is not Ogata as Mishima the entire time as he ages of course – though Ogata does get the the voice over (and Schrader wrote Taxi Driver – so he loves a good voice over) and the all important “November 25, 1970” sequence. Schrader also gives Ogata the close-up Vertigo or Jaws-like dolly zoom in the final act.


Ken Ogata in Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters – Roger Ebert  “the most unconventional biopic I’ve ever seen, and one of the best” –



best performance: The three (3) best films above from Ken Ogata are whittled down to two (2) for this category – Ogata’s work as Yuko Mishima and then Ogata’s haunting portrayal of Iwao Enokizuv in Vengeance is Mine. These are two heavyweight performances – both complicated, irreparably damaged characters. If Ogata is better in Vengeance is Mine – it may just be because there is so much more space him in the 139-minute film.


Ken Ogata as Iwao Enokizuv in Vengeance is Mine. The film is a procedural – and more plotted than most of Imamura’s work. Ogata has some powerful scenes with Rentarô Mikuni (who plays Enokizuv’s father).



stylistic innovations/traits:   Ken Ogata’s archiveable filmography may contain five (5) films total – but the Ogata’s case for making this list rests on just three (3) films: Vengeance is Mine, Mishima, and The Ballad of Narayama. These are standout performances in exemplary films. Ogata was born in Tokyo in 1937 – finally hooking up with Shōhei Imamura in 1979 and that changed the trajectory of his career. Without a doubt, Ogata’s work with Imamura opened the door for his eventual Mishima role.  Ogata could portray intellect, patience, and a cold detachment. He is skilled at portraying that subtext from a stare or grimace – and he does not need to play a character that is overly verbal.  The depth of filmography may not be there for Ogata – but he is certainly ahead of most of the one-hit wonders with just that one big performance – and on the flip side, it is hard to put a journeyman who had fifteen (15) or even twenty-five (25) archiveable films on the same level with Ogata when they never hit the highs he did in these three (3) films.


Sumiko Sakamoto as Orin opposite of Ken Ogata as Tatsuhei in 1983’s The Ballad of Narayama. This is a harsh life, dog eat dog – right in lock step with Imamura’s worldview. Ogata plays the role of the son – loyal, loving, and largely silent. The ascent to the mountain is like its own superb short film. There is little to no talking during the climb – and Ogata, in particular, is perfect in these moments. The two characters embrace – this is a love story between mother and son – and Ogata is sublime in the role.


directors worked with: Shōhei Imamura (3), Paul Schrader (1), Peter Greenaway (1) – these are three sort of provocateurs – all were often controversial – yet highly brilliant aesthetically.


top five performances:

  1. Vengeance is Mine
  2. Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
  3. The Ballad of Narayama
  4. Eijanaika
  5. The Pillow Book


archiveable films

1979- Vengeance is Mine
1981- Eijanaika
1983- The Ballad of Narayama
1985- Mishima: A Life in Four Chapters
1996- The Pillow Book