Robert Mitchum did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Harry Kilmer in The Yakuza.
Robert Mitchum managed to fashion a later career for himself not by attempting to hide his age but by embracing it. Mitchum was willing to play the meek schoolteacher in Ryan's Daughter and the down on his luck mobster in The Friends of Eddie Coyle. Although Mitchum gets to play perhaps a more traditionally appealing leading man here he does not attempt to position the part as something its not in fact he ensures the years past are something which define his Harry. Now from the outset though Mitchum made his breakout originally through crime noirs and here is returning to a genre though with a twist through its setting which mostly takes place in Japan. The appeal of Mitchum's screen presence is of course quite evident, and it is perhaps only amplified by his age to be honest. Mitchum has that same ease onscreen and is naturally compelling as usual. This is not a copy of those earlier performances though by any means, as again Mitchum takes in consideration who Harry has been and where he has been. This is not a man fresh into the life of dealing with crime, he's a seasoned veteran, and Mitchum brings just the right inherent world weariness within his work for the crime world.
Although Mitchum properly keys into the losses in the life of this man, he carefully does not let that be the character's only definition. In a early scene we see Harry as he goes to see the Japanese woman Eiko and her daughter who he had saved and had an affair with long ago. Mitchum is great in this scene as he brings such a genuine warmth creating such a strong sense of the love they once shared, and which he certainly fully feels towards her. Mitchum uses these moments so well in creating a real honest tenderness within the character, that makes it all the easier to invest into his story. There is a severe complication though is in her apparent brother Ken (Ken Takakura), who seems to hold quite the disdain for Harry, though is honor bound to help him for what he did for his sister. Mitchum is careful in also creating this history between the two men as there is a strong sense of the bitterness which Mitchum shows not within Harry himself rather he portrays it as part of this unease he exudes in their early interactions. Mitchum always emphasizes though a definite respect in the way he looks and interacts with Ken.
I'll spoilers for the rest of this review since of course while saving the kidnapped girl goes well the rest does not as soon becomes known that the kidnapping was due to an arms transaction between the yakuza and Harry's American friend which leads to Harry and Ken being the ones in the line of fire. Now in part this does lead to some premium Robert Mitchum as an aged badass, seeing him take down bad guys with a pistol and double barrel shot gun definitely has an appeal. Mitchum always is good at being "cool" in such scenes, while never compromising the intensity of them. In fact here's he's particularly good in every moment of his physical work portraying the way Harry becomes rather exasperated throughout the experience. Mitchum being just entertaining to watch is only part of his performance here as he goes much further in developing the continued relationship with Ken which becomes all the more complicated when he learns that Ken was in fact Eiko's husband not her brother. Mitchum doesn't let a moment of this slide bringing such a poignancy in his reactions to learning this information. Mitchum importantly lets this dictate their later interactions, as he does not make this a ill-fitting action duo, rather Mitchum offers a real sensitivity in portraying in every moment such a guilt and severe concern for the man in every interaction. When the battle is won by the two of them they share a final scene that Mitchum is incredible exceptional in. Mitchum brings such a power in revealing the modest yet palatable gratitude in his eyes that reveal a sadness for what he has done to the man, but also an appreciation for all his sacrifices. Even though the scene involves chopping off an appendage, Mitchum and Takakura make it heartwarming in its own way as in the brief interaction between the two they reveal a mutual understanding between the two that feels wholly earned by both performances. This is a terrific performance by Robert Mitchum as he not only offers a strong presence to keep this thriller compelling, he goes further by amplifying any substance to be found within it.