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.
(m. 1983; div. 2005)
(m. 2005; div. 2018)
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. Watanabe reprised his role at the London Palladium in June 2018.
Watanabe was born in Koide, Niigata. His mother was a school teacher and his father taught calligraphy. 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.
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.
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.
Watanabe was introduced to most Western audiences in the 2003 American film The Last Samurai, set in 19th Century Japan. His performance as Lord Katsumoto earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.
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. 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, 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. Tokyo Vice stars Ansel Elgort, playing Adelstein, an American journalist who embeds himself into the Tokyo Vice police squad to expose corruption. 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.
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, just after they had attended a New York City premiere of his film Sayuri together.
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.
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. 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.
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.
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. In his video in English, he made a call to action to support the victims and to raise funds in the relief effort. In conjunction, he has created his own website for the cause.
On February 9, 2016, it was revealed Watanabe had been diagnosed with stomach cancer and would postpone scheduled performances to undergo necessary treatment.
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.
|1984||MacArthur's Children||Tetsuo Nakai|
|1985||Kekkon Annai Mystery||Funayama Tetsuya / Masakazu Sekine|
|1986||The Sea and Poison||Toda|
|1998||Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald||Raita Onuki, Truck Driver|
|Kizuna||Detective Sako Akio|
|2001||Genji: A Thousand-Year Love||Fujiwara Michinaga / Fujiwara Nobutaka|
|2002||Dawn of a New Day: The Man Behind VHS||Ōkubo|
|2003||The Last Samurai||Katsumoto Moritsugu||Hollywood debut|
|2005||Memoirs of a Geisha||Chairman Ken Iwamura|
|Batman Begins||Ra's al Ghul's Decoy|
|Year One in the North||Hideaki 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|
|2012||Hayabusa: The Long Voyage Home||Professor Yamaguchi Junichiro|
|2014||Godzilla||Dr. Ishiro Serizawa|
|Transformers: Age of Extinction||Drift (voice)|
|2015||Sea of Trees||Takumi Nakamura|
|2017||Transformers: The Last Knight||Drift (voice)|
|2018||Isle of Dogs||Head Surgeon (voice)|
|The Samurai of Tsushima||The Emperor of Japan (voice)|
|Bel Canto||Katsumi Hosokawa|
|2019||Detective Pikachu||Lt. Hide Yoshida||Also dubbed for himself in Japanese|
|Godzilla: King of the Monsters||Dr. Ishiro Serizawa|
|2020||Fukushima 50||Masao Yoshida||In post-production|
|TBA||Kensuke's Kingdom||Kensuke||Voice role; In production|
|1983||Taiyō ni Hoero!||Yūji Shimizu||Episode 574|
|1984||Sanga Moyu||Takeshi Kusuda||Taiga drama|
|1987||Dokuganryū Masamune||Date Masamune||Taiga drama|
|1989||Oda Nobunaga||Oda Nobunaga||TV movie|
|1990–1992||Baian the Assassin||Baian Fujieda|
|1993–1994||Homura 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||Suna no Utsuwa||Shūichirō Imanishi|
|2009–2011||Saka no Ue no Kumo||Narrator||Taiga special drama|
|2018||Segodon||Shimazu Nariakira||Taiga drama|
|2019||An Artist of the Floating World||Masuji Ono||TV movie|
|2020||The Fugitive||Kazuki Kakurai||Mini-series|
|TBA||Tokyo Vice||Hiroto Katagari||Upcoming series|
|2005||Batman Begins||Ra's al Ghul's decoy|
- Britannicus henso (1980)
- Shitaya mannencho monogatari (1981)
- Fuyu no raion (The Lion in Winter) (1981)
- Pajaze (1981)
- Platonof (1982)
- Kafun netsu (1982)
- Pizarro (1985)
- Hamlet (1988)
- Hamlet no gakuya -anten (2000)
- Towa part1-kanojo (2000)
- Towa part2-kanojo to kare (2001)
- Dialogue with Horowitz (2013)
- The King and I (2015)
- The King and I (2016)
- The King and I (2018)
- The Royal Hunt of the Sun (2020)
Awards and nominationsEdit
- "Ken Watanabe Receives 2015 Tony Nomination for "The King and I"". crunchyroll.com. April 29, 2015.
- Longman, Will. "Details confirmed for The King and I at the London Palladium in 2018". LondonTheatre.co.uk. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
- "The King and I". londonboxoffice.co.uk. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
- Keck, William (February 24, 2004). "Japanese Cruise". USA Today. Retrieved May 7, 2010.
- Rebecca Murray. "The Last Samurai - Ken Watanabe and Shin Koyamada Interviews". About.com Entertainment. Archived from the original on September 6, 2015. Retrieved January 28, 2016.
- Corkill, Edan (July 6, 2013). "From Hollywood to Hirohito". The Japan Times. The Japan Times, Ltd. Retrieved February 19, 2014.
- "Watanabe nominated for Academy Award". CNN. Archived from the original on February 14, 2012. Retrieved February 12, 2012.
- Justin Kroll (May 8, 2014). "John Goodman, Ken Watanabe to Voice Autobots in 'Transformers: Age of Extinction'". Variety. Retrieved January 28, 2016.
- Will Thorne (September 12, 2019). "Ken Watanabe Joins Ansel Elgort in 'Tokyo Vice' at HBO Max". Variety.
- "Japan's Wowow Boards Michael Mann's 'Tokyo Vice' as Co-Producer as Production Resumes This Week". November 23, 2020.
- Joe Otterson (June 6, 2019). "Ansel Elgort to Star in Drama Series 'Tokyo Vice' at WarnerMedia Streaming Service". Variety.
- Nellie Andreeva (June 6, 2019). "Ansel Elgort to Star in Drama Series 'Tokyo Vice' at WarnerMedia Streaming Service". Deadline. Penske Media Corporation.
- Schilling, Mark (April 24, 2019). "Ken Watanabe to Star in Japan Edition of 'The Fugitive'". Variety. Retrieved February 8, 2020.
- "Actors Watanabe, Minami tie knot". The Japan Times. The Japan Times, Ltd. December 8, 2005. Retrieved May 18, 2018.
- "'Memoirs of a Geisha' New York City Premiere - Inside Arrivals". Getty Images. December 6, 2005. Retrieved May 18, 2018.
- "Ken Watanabe to appear in Docomo ad with Darth Vader". Japan Today. September 2, 2010. Retrieved May 21, 2018.
- Freydkin, Donna. "Watanabe opens 'a box of painful memories'". USA Today. Retrieved February 10, 2016.
- "May - 2006 - Japan Zone". Retrieved January 28, 2016.
- "kizuna311". YouTube. Retrieved April 12, 2012.
- ""kizuna311" a message from Ken Watanabe". YouTube. Retrieved April 12, 2012.
- "Kizuna – Unity and Hope. Together we will prevail and overcome". Kizuna311.com. Archived from the original on March 28, 2012. Retrieved April 12, 2012.
- Mark Kennedy (February 9, 2016). "Tony-nominated actor Ken Watanabe battling stomach cancer". Associated Press. Archived from the original on November 12, 2016.
- "Ken Watanabe of 'Last Samurai' fame divorces his actress wife". The Asahi Shimbun. The Asahi Shimbun Company. May 19, 2018. Retrieved May 19, 2018.
- "Ken Watanabe and Kaho Minami divorce after cheating scandal". Arama!. May 19, 2018. Retrieved May 19, 2018.
- 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.
- Shackleton, Liz (May 14, 2019). "Japan 2011 earthquake, tsunami drama 'Fukushima 50' leads Kadokawa slate (exclusive)". Screen Daily. Media Business Insight Limited. Retrieved August 28, 2019.
- "スペシャルドラマ 坂の上の雲" [Special drama - Clouds on the slope]. NHK (in Japanese). Retrieved September 16, 2019.
- "Awards for Ken Watanabe". IMDB. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
- "Drama Academy Awards". Tokyograph. Archived from the original on January 29, 2010. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
- "Blue Ribbon Awards: 'Hula Girl' Aoi on top". Tokyograph. January 24, 2009. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
- "Another win for 'Hula Girl' at Japan Academy Awards". Tokyograph. February 16, 2007. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
- "TBS producer wins Fujimoto Prize". Tokyograph. June 8, 2007. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
- "Kinema Junpo announces Best 10". Tokyograph. January 9, 2007. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
- "34th Hochi Film Awards". Tokyograph. November 28, 2009. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
- "33rd Japan Academy Awards". Tokyograph. March 6, 2010. Retrieved March 7, 2010.
- "58th Annual GRAMMY Awards Nominees". The GRAMMYs. Archived from the original on December 7, 2014. Retrieved January 28, 2016.
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