Ken Watanabe

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Ken Watanabe
Ken Watanabe 2007 (cropped).jpg
Ken Watanabe in 2007
Born(1959-10-21) October 21, 1959 (age 54)
Koide, Niigata, Japan
Years active1979–present
Spouse(s)Yumiko Watanabe (div. 2005)
Kaho Minami (2005–present)
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Ken Watanabe
Ken Watanabe 2007 (cropped).jpg
Ken Watanabe in 2007
Born(1959-10-21) October 21, 1959 (age 54)
Koide, Niigata, Japan
Years active1979–present
Spouse(s)Yumiko Watanabe (div. 2005)
Kaho Minami (2005–present)

Ken Watanabe (渡辺 謙 Watanabe Ken?, born October 21, 1959) is a Japanese stage, film, and television 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 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 director Christopher Nolan's Hollywood films Batman Begins and Inception. In 2014, he starred in the reboot of Godzilla, and lent his voice to the fourth installment of the Transformers franchise, Transformers: Age of Extinction as Decepticon turned Autobot Drift. He is set to make his Broadway Debut this spring in Lincoln Center Theatre's revival production of The King and I in the title role (opposite Kelli O'Hara as Anna Leonowens).

Early life[edit]

Watanabe was born in Koide, Niigata. His mother was a school teacher and his father taught calligraphy.[1] 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 Ken was in junior high school and was unable to work there was difficulty in finding the money for tuition. In part because of these problems, Watanabe gave up entering the conservatory.[citation needed]


Japanese roles[edit]

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 drama. He played the lead character, Matsudaira Kurō, in the television jidaigeki Gokenin Zankurō, which ran for several seasons. He has gone on to earn acclaim in such historical dramas as Oda Nobunaga, Chushingura, 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 Koji 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[edit]

Watanabe was introduced to most Western audiences when he was cast in the 2003 film The Last Samurai by prominent Japanese film producer Yoko Narahashi.[2][3] His performance as Katsumoto earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.[4]

Watanabe appeared in the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha, playing Chairman Iwamura. That same year, he also played Ra's al Ghul's decoy 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's decoy in the Batman Begins video game. He has filmed advertisements for American Express, Yakult, 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 the Hollywood blockbusters Godzilla and Transformers: Age of Extinction.[5]

Personal life[edit]

In 1983, Watanabe married his first wife, Yumiko. In March 2005, following two years of arbitration, he and Yumiko were divorced.[citation needed] He got to know Kaho Minami when they were acting together in a suspense drama for TV Tokyo. Around the time of his divorce the two began seriously dating, and were married on December 3 of the same year.[citation needed] The couple's relationship was initially kept out of the mass media. It was not until an "unidentified guest" accompanying Watanabe at a New York premiere of his film Sayuri who is seen in an Associated Press photo was found to be Minami that their marriage was publicly announced.[citation needed]

Watanabe formally adopted Minami's son from her previous marriage to director Hitonari 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 any wedding ceremony, but in 2010, marking their fifth anniversary, they announced that they had held a ceremony in Los Angeles.[citation needed]

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 also an actress and fashion model. In August 2008, Dai had his first child, making Ken a grandfather at the age of 48.[citation needed] As of 2014, Watanabe has two grandchildren.

In 1989 Watanabe was diagnosed with bone marrow leukemia, but he later recovered.[citation needed]

In 2006 Watanabe revealed in his autobiography Dare? - Who Am I? that he has hepatitis C. At a press conference held 23 May 2006 in Tokyo's Ginza district, he said he was in good condition but was still undergoing treatment.[6]

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.[7] In his video in English, he made a call to action to support the victims and to raise funds in the relief effort.[8] In conjunction, he has created his own website for the cause.[9]


1984MacArthur's ChildrenTetsuo Nakai
Bruce's Fists of Vengeance
19859 Deaths of the NinjaSensei
Kekkon Annai Mystery
(結婚案内ミステリー Kekkon Annai Misuterī)
Funayama Tetsuya/Masakazu Sekine
1986The Sea and PoisonToda
Commando Invasion
1989Violent ZoneOld Mishima
1998Welcome Back, Mr. McDonaldRaita Onuki, Truck Driver
2000Space Travelers
(スペーストラベラーズ Supēsu toraberāzu)
2000Ikebukuro West Gate Park
Inspector YokoyamaTV series
2001Genji: A Thousand-Year LoveFujiwara Michinaga/Fujiwara Nobutaka
2003The Last SamuraiKatsumoto Moritsugu
T.R.Y.Masanobu Azuma
2004The Vessel Of Sand
(砂の器 Suna no utsuwa)
Shūichirō ImanishiTV series
2005Memoirs of a GeishaChairman
Batman BeginsRa's al Ghul's decoy
Year One in the North
(北の零年 Kita no zeronen)
Hideaki Komatsubara
2006Memories of TomorrowMasayuki SaekiFirst starring role
Letters from Iwo JimaGeneral Tadamichi Kuribayashi
2009The UnbrokenHajime Onchi
Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's AssistantMr. Hibernius Tall
2010ShanghaiCaptain Tanaka
2012Hayabusa: Harukanaru KikanProfessor Yamaguchi Junichiro
2013Yurusarezaru MonoJubei Kamata
2014GodzillaDr. Serizawa
Transformers: Age of ExtinctionDrift[10]Voice
2015Sea of TreesFilming
2016Transformers 5DriftVoice

Video games[edit]

2005Batman BeginsRa's al GhulVoice


Awards and nominations[edit]

1987Elandor AwardsNewcomer AwardUmi to DokuyakuWon
1999Japanese Academy AwardsBest Supporting ActorKizunaNominated[11]
2002Japan Academy AwardsBest Supporting ActorSennen no Koi Story of GenjiNominated[11]
2003Japan Academy AwardsBest Supporting ActorHi Wa Mata NoboruNominated[11]
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association AwardsBest Supporting ActorThe Last SamuraiNominated[11]
2004Academy AwardsBest Supporting ActorNominated[11]
Saturn AwardsBest Supporting ActorNominated[11]
Blue Ribbon AwardsSpecial AwardWon[11]
Broadcast Film Critics Association AwardsBest Supporting ActorNominated[11]
Golden Globe AwardsBest Supporting ActorNominated[11]
Las Vegas Film Critics Society AwardsBest Supporting ActorNominated[11]
Phoenix Film Critics Society AwardsBest Supporting ActorNominated[11]
Satellite AwardsBest Supporting ActorNominated[11]
Screen Actors Guild AwardsBest Supporting ActorNominated[11]
Television Drama Academy Awards (Winter)Best Supporting ActorSuna no UtsuwaWon[12]
2006Hochi Film AwardsBest ActorMemories of TomorrowWon[11]
Nikkan Sports Film AwardsBest ActorWon[11]
2007Blue Ribbon AwardsBest ActorWon[13]
Japan Academy AwardsBest ActorWon[14]
Fujimoto PrizeSpecial PrizeWon[15]
Kinema Junpo AwardsBest ActorWon[16]
2009Hochi Film AwardsBest ActorShizumanu TaiyoWon[17]
2010Japan Academy AwardsBest ActorWon[18]


  1. ^ Keck, William (2004-02-24). "Japanese Cruise". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  2. ^ Watanabe in the Last Samurai
  3. ^ Corkill, Edan. "From Hollywood to Hirohito". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 
  4. ^ Watanabe nominated for Academy Award
  5. ^
  6. ^ Japan Entertainment News Archives for May 2006
  7. ^ "kizuna311". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-04-12. 
  8. ^ ""kizuna311" a message from Ken Watanabe". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-04-12. 
  9. ^ "Kizuna – Unity and Hope.Together we will prevail and overcome". Retrieved 2012-04-12. 
  10. ^ Bay, Michael (May 8, 2014). "John Goodman And Ken Watanabe Join The Autobot Voice Cast in Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers: Age Of Extinction’". Michael Bay. Retrieved May 8, 2014. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Awards for Ken Watanabe". IMDB. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  12. ^ "Drama Academy Awards". Tokyograph. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  13. ^ "Blue Ribbon Awards: 'Hula Girl' Aoi on top". Tokyograph. 2009-01-24. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  14. ^ "Another win for 'Hula Girl' at Japan Academy Awards". Tokyograph. 2007-02-16. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  15. ^ "TBS producer wins Fujimoto Prize". Tokyograph. 2007-06-08. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  16. ^ "Kinema Junpo announces Best 10". Tokyograph. 2007-01-09. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  17. ^ "34th Hochi Film Awards". Tokyograph. 2009-11-28. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  18. ^ "33rd Japan Academy Awards". Tokyograph. 2010-03-06. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 

External links[edit]