In 1948, Shinya Inoué arrived in the United States for graduate studies at Princeton. A year later he came to Woods Hole, starting a long tradition of summer research at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), which quickly became Inoué's scientific home. Primed by his Japanese mentor, Katsuma Dan, Inoué followed Dan's mantra to work with healthy, living cells, on a fundamental problem (mitosis), with a unique tool set that he refined for precise and quantitative observations (polarized light microscopy), and a fresh and brilliant mind that was unafraid of challenging current dogma. Building on this potent combination, Inoué contributed landmark observations and concepts in cell biology, including the notion that there are dynamic, fine structures inside living cells, in which molecular assemblies such as mitotic spindle fibers exist in delicate equilibrium with their molecular building blocks suspended in the cytoplasm. In the late 1970s and 1980s, Inoué and others at the MBL were instrumental in conceiving video microscopy, a groundbreaking technique which married light microscopy and electronic imaging, ushering in a revolution in how we know and what we know about living cells and the molecular mechanisms of life. Here, we recount some of Inoué's accomplishments and describe how his legacy has shaped current activities in polarized light imaging at the MBL.