Ken Watanabe

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Ken Watanabe
Ken Watanabe 2007 (cropped).jpg
Watanabe at the New York premiere of Memories of Tomorrow in May 2007
Born (1959-10-21) October 21, 1959 (age 61)
Hirokami, Niigata, Japan
Years active1979–present
    Yumiko Watanabe
    (m. 1983;div. 2005)

Ken Watanabe (渡辺 謙, Watanabe Ken, born October 21, 1959) is a Japanese actor. To English-speaking audiences, he is known for playing tragic hero characters, such as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi in Letters from Iwo Jima and Lord Katsumoto Moritsugu in The Last Samurai , for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Among other awards, he has won the Japan Academy Film Prize for Best Actor twice, in 2007 for Memories of Tomorrow and in 2010 for Shizumanu Taiyō . He is also known for his roles in Christopher Nolan's films Batman Begins and Inception , Memoirs of a Geisha and Pokémon Detective Pikachu .


In 2014, he starred in the reboot Godzilla as Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, a role he reprised in the sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters . He lent his voice to the fourth and fifth installments of the Transformers franchise respectively, Transformers: Age of Extinction and Transformers: The Last Knight , as Decepticon turned Autobot Drift.

He made his Broadway debut in April 2015 in Lincoln Center Theater's revival production of The King and I in the title role. In 2015, Watanabe received his first Tony Award nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical at the 69th Tony Awards for his role as The King. He is the first Japanese actor to be nominated in this category. [1] Watanabe reprised his role at the London Palladium in June 2018. [2] [3]

Early life

Watanabe was born in Koide, Niigata. His mother was a school teacher and his father taught calligraphy. [4] Due to a number of relocations for his parents' work, he spent his childhood in the villages of Irihirose and Sumon, both now part of the city of Uonuma, and in Takada, now part of the city of Jōetsu. He attended Niigata Prefectural Koide High School, where he was a member of the concert band club, playing trumpet, which he had played since childhood.

After graduation from high school, in 1978 he aimed to enter Musashino Academia Musicae, a conservatory in Tokyo. However, he had never received a formal musical education, and because his father had collapsed when he was in junior high school and was unable to work, there was difficulty in finding the money for tuition. Because of these problems, Watanabe gave up trying to enter the conservatory.[ citation needed ]


Japanese roles

After graduating from high school in 1978, Watanabe moved to Tokyo to begin his acting career, getting his big break with the Tokyo-based theater troupe En. While with the troupe, he was cast as the hero in the play Shimodani Mannencho Monogatari, under Yukio Ninagawa's direction. The role attracted critical and popular notice.

In 1982, he made his first TV appearance in Michinaru Hanran (Unknown Rebellion), and his first appearance on TV as a samurai in Mibu no koiuta. He made his feature-film debut in 1984 with MacArthur's Children .

Watanabe is mostly known in Japan for playing samurai, as in the 1987 Dokuganryu Masamune (One eyed dragon, Masamune ) the 50-episode NHK taiga drama. He played the lead character, Matsudaira Kurō, in the television jidaigeki Gokenin Zankurō , which ran for several seasons. He has gone on to garner acclaim in such historical dramas as Oda Nobunaga , Chūshingura , and the movie Bakumatsu Junjo Den.

In 1989, while filming Haruki Kadokawa's Heaven and Earth , Watanabe was diagnosed with acute myelogenous leukemia. He returned to acting while simultaneously undergoing chemotherapy treatments, but in 1991 suffered a relapse.

As his health improved his career picked back up. He co-starred with Kōji Yakusho in the 1998 Kizuna, for which he was nominated for the Japanese Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.

In 2002, he quit the En (Engeki-Shudan En) theatre group where he had his start and joined the K Dash agency. The film Sennen no Koi (Thousand-year Love, based on The Tale of Genji ) earned him another Japanese Academy Award nomination.

In 2006, he won Best Lead Actor at the Japanese Academy Awards for his role in Memories of Tomorrow (Ashita no Kioku) , in which he played a patient with Alzheimer's disease.

International films

Watanabe leaving after a press conference in Berlin for Letters from Iwo Jima in February 2007 Flickr - Siebbi - Ken Watanabe.jpg
Watanabe leaving after a press conference in Berlin for Letters from Iwo Jima in February 2007

Watanabe was introduced to most Western audiences in the 2003 American film The Last Samurai , set in 19th Century Japan. [5] [6] His performance as Lord Katsumoto earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor. [7]

Watanabe appeared in the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha , playing Chairman Iwamura. That same year, he also played the decoy of Ra's al Ghul in Christopher Nolan's Batman film reboot, Batman Begins . In 2006, he starred in Clint Eastwood's Letters from Iwo Jima , playing Tadamichi Kuribayashi. He has voiced Ra's al Ghul in the Batman Begins video game. He has filmed advertisements for American Express, Yakult, Canon and NTT DoCoMo. In 2004, he was featured in People Magazine 's 50 Most Beautiful People edition. In 2009, he appeared in The Vampire's Assistant . In 2010, he co-starred in Inception , where he stars as Saito, a mark-turned-benefactor businessman of the film's heist team. In 2014, he starred in two Hollywood blockbusters Godzilla and Transformers: Age of Extinction . [8] In 2019, he starred in two other Hollywood blockbusters Pokémon Detective Pikachu and Godzilla: King of the Monsters .


Watanabe will appear in Tokyo Vice , a forthcoming television series, [9] based on the non-fiction book by Jake Adelstein and written for television by J.T. Rogers. The ten-part series is being Produced by HBO Max and will be distributed in 2021 by HBO Max and in Japan by Wowow. [10] Tokyo Vice stars Ansel Elgort, playing Adelstein, an American journalist who embeds himself into the Tokyo Vice police squad to expose corruption. [11] [12] Ken is currently starring in the NHK World Japan's comedy You're a Genius!.

In April 2019, it was announced that Warner Bros. International Television Production and Japan’s TV Asahi network were teaming up to remake The Fugitive. Watanabe is set to star in the upcoming remake, taking place in present-day Tokyo just before the opening of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. The broadcast date has yet to be announced. [13]

Personal life

In 1983, Watanabe married his first wife, Yumiko. In September 2005, following two years of arbitration, he and Yumiko were divorced. He met his second wife, Kaho Minami, when they were both acting in a suspense drama for TV Tokyo. They married on 3 December 2005. The marriage was announced by their agencies on 7 December, [14] just after they had attended a New York City premiere of his film Sayuri together. [15]

Watanabe at the premiere of Inception in July 2010 Ken Watanabe 2010.jpg
Watanabe at the premiere of Inception in July 2010

Watanabe formally adopted Minami's son from her previous marriage to director Jinsei Tsuji, and for a time the three of them lived in Los Angeles. In order to increase the amount of time the family could spend together, considering Ken's work requiring him to travel so much, they later returned to Japan. Initially Minami and Ken did not hold a wedding ceremony, but in 2010 they announced that they had held a ceremony on August 1 in Los Angeles. [16]

Watanabe has two biological children and an adopted son. His oldest son, Dai Watanabe (born 1984), is an actor, and his daughter Anne Watanabe (born 1986) is an actress and fashion model. In August 2008, Dai had his first child, a son, making Ken a grandfather at the age of 48.[ citation needed ] A daughter was born to Dai in March 2010.

In 1989 Watanabe was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. The cancer returned in 1994, but he later recovered. [17]

In 2006 Watanabe revealed in his autobiography Dare? - Who Am I? that he has hepatitis C. At a press conference held May 23, 2006 in Tokyo's Ginza district, he said he was in good condition but was still undergoing treatment. [18]

On March 13, 2011, he launched a YouTube page to raise awareness about the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and invited celebrities to add their videos. [19] In his video in English, he made a call to action to support the victims and to raise funds in the relief effort. [20] In conjunction, he has created his own website for the cause. [21]

On February 9, 2016, it was revealed Watanabe had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and would postpone scheduled performances to undergo necessary treatment. [22]

In May 2016, Watanabe's daughter by his first marriage, Anne, gave birth to twin girls. In November 2017 she gave birth to a son, giving Watanabe five grandchildren altogether.

On May 17, 2018, Kaho Minami's agency announced that Minami and Watanabe had divorced after he had admitted to having an extramarital affair. [23] [24]



1984 MacArthur's Children Tetsuo Nakai
1985Kekkon Annai MysteryFunayama Tetsuya / Masakazu Sekine
Tampopo Gun
1986 The Sea and Poison Toda
1998 Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald Raita Onuki, Truck Driver
KizunaDetective Sako Akio
2000 Space Travelers Sakamaki
2001 Genji: A Thousand-Year Love Fujiwara Michinaga / Fujiwara Nobutaka
2002Dawn of a New Day: The Man Behind VHSŌkubo
2003 The Last Samurai Katsumoto MoritsuguHollywood debut
T.R.Y.Masanobu Azuma
2005 Memoirs of a Geisha Chairman Ken Iwamura
Batman Begins Ra's al Ghul's Decoy
Year One in the NorthHideaki Komatsubara
2006 Memories of Tomorrow Masayuki Saeki
Letters from Iwo Jima General Tadamichi Kuribayashi
2009 The Unbroken Hajime Onchi
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant Mr. Hibernius Tall
2010 Shanghai Captain Tanaka
Inception Mr. Saito
2012 Hayabusa: The Long Voyage Home Professor Yamaguchi Junichiro
2013 Unforgiven Jubei Kamata
2014 Godzilla Dr. Ishiro Serizawa
Transformers: Age of Extinction Drift (voice) [25]
2015 Sea of Trees Takumi Nakamura
2016 Rage Yōhei Maki
2017 Transformers: The Last Knight Drift (voice)
2018 Isle of Dogs Head Surgeon (voice)
The Samurai of TsushimaThe Emperor of Japan (voice)
Bel Canto Katsumi Hosokawa
2019 Detective Pikachu Lt. Hide YoshidaAlso dubbed for himself in Japanese
Godzilla: King of the Monsters Dr. Ishiro Serizawa
2020 Fukushima 50 Masao Yoshida In post-production [26]
TBA Kensuke's Kingdom KensukeVoice role; In production


1983 Taiyō ni Hoero! Yūji ShimizuEpisode 574
1984 Sanga Moyu Takeshi Kusuda Taiga drama
1986HanekonmaGenzō Onodera Asadora
1987 Dokuganryū Masamune Date Masamune Taiga drama
1989Oda Nobunaga Oda Nobunaga TV movie
1990–1992Baian the AssassinBaian Fujieda
1993–1994Homura Tatsu Fujiwara no Tsunekiyo / Fujiwara no Yasuhira Taiga drama
1995–2002 Gokenin Zankurō Zankurō Matsudaira
2000 Ikebukuro West Gate Park Inspector Yokoyama
2001 Chūshingura 1/47 Cameo, TV movie
Hōjō Tokimune Hōjō Tokiyori Taiga drama
2004 The Vessel of Sand Shūichirō Imanishi
2009–2011 Saka no Ue no Kumo Narrator [27] Taiga special drama
2018 Segodon Shimazu Nariakira Taiga drama
2019An Artist of the Floating WorldMasuji OnoTV movie
2020The FugitiveKazuki KakuraiMini-series
TBA Tokyo Vice Hiroto KatagariUpcoming series

Video games

2005 Batman Begins Ra's al Ghul's decoy


Awards and nominations

198711th Elan d'or Awards Newcomer Award HimselfWon
1999 22nd Japan Academy Film Prize Best Supporting ActorKizunaNominated [28]
2002 25th Japan Academy Film Prize Best Supporting Actor Sennen no Koi Story of Genji Nominated [28]
2003 26th Japan Academy Film Prize Best Supporting ActorHi Wa Mata NoboruNominated [28]
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor The Last Samurai Nominated [28]
2004 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated [28]
Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated [28]
Blue Ribbon Awards Special AwardWon [28]
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated [28]
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated [28]
Las Vegas Film Critics Society AwardsBest Supporting ActorNominated [28]
Phoenix Film Critics Society AwardsBest Supporting ActorNominated [28]
Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated [28]
Screen Actors Guild Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated [28]
Television Drama Academy Awards (Winter)Best Supporting ActorSuna no UtsuwaWon [29]
200631st Hochi Film Awards Best Actor Memories of Tomorrow Won [28]
Nikkan Sports Film AwardsBest ActorWon [28]
2007Blue Ribbon AwardsBest ActorWon [30]
30th Japan Academy Film Prize Best Actor Won [31]
Fujimoto PrizeSpecial PrizeWon [32]
Kinema Junpo AwardsBest ActorWon [33]
200934th Hochi Film AwardsBest Actor Shizumanu Taiyo Won [34]
2010 33rd Japan Academy Film Prize Best ActorWon [35]
2014 37th Japan Academy Film Prize Best Actor Unforgiven Nominated
2015 Tony Awards Best Actor in a Musical The King and I Nominated
2016 Grammy Awards Best Musical Theater Album Nominated [36]
41st Hochi Film AwardsBest Actor Rage Nominated
2019 Olivier Awards Best Actor in a Musical The King and I Nominated
2021 44th Japan Academy Film Prize Best Supporting Actor Fukushima 50 Won

See also

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