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Ken Watanabe

Ken Watanabe
Ken Watanabe in 2007
Born (1959-10-21) October 21, 1959
Koide, Niigata, Japan
Occupation Actor
Years active 1979–present
Spouse(s) Yumiko Watanabe (div. 2005)
Kaho Minami (2005–present)
Website .php/index_ken/watanabe/kdash/

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 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 made his Broadway debut in April of 2015 in Lincoln Center Theater's revival production of The King and I in the title role (opposite Kelli O'Hara as Anna Leonowens). In 2015, Watanabe received his first Tony 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]


  • Early life 1
  • Career 2
    • Japanese roles 2.1
    • International films 2.2
  • Personal life 3
  • Filmography 4
    • Video games 4.1
  • Stage 5
  • Awards and nominations 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life

Watanabe was born in Koide, Niigata. His mother was a school teacher and his father taught calligraphy.[2] 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 entering the conservatory.


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 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

Watanabe was introduced to most Western audiences in the 2003 American film The Last Samurai, set in 19th Century Japan.[3][4] His performance as Lord Katsumoto earned him an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.[5]

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.[6]

Personal life

In 1983, Watanabe married his first wife, Yumiko. In March 2005, following two years of arbitration, he and Yumiko were divorced. 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. 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.

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 any wedding ceremony, but in 2010, marking their fifth anniversary, they announced that they had held a ceremony 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 also an actress and fashion model. In August 2008, Dai had his first child, making Ken a grandfather at the age of 48. As of 2014, Watanabe has two grandchildren.

In 1989 Watanabe was diagnosed with bone marrow leukemia, 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 23 May 2006 in Tokyo's Ginza district, he said he was in good condition but was still undergoing treatment.[7]

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.[8] In his video in English, he made a call to action to support the victims and to raise funds in the relief effort.[9] In conjunction, he has created his own website for the cause.[10]


Year Title Role Notes
1984 MacArthur's Children Tetsuo Nakai
1985 Kekkon Annai Mystery
(結婚案内ミステリー Kekkon Annai Misuterī)
Funayama Tetsuya/Masakazu Sekine
1986 The Sea and Poison Toda
Tampopo Gun
1998 Welcome Back, Mr. McDonald Raita Onuki, Truck Driver
2000 Space Travelers
(スペーストラベラーズ Supēsu toraberāzu)
2000 Ikebukuro West Gate Park
Inspector Yokoyama TV series
2001 Genji: A Thousand-Year Love Fujiwara Michinaga/Fujiwara Nobutaka
2003 The Last Samurai Katsumoto Moritsugu
T.R.Y. Masanobu Azuma
2004 The Vessel Of Sand
(砂の器 Suna no utsuwa)
Shūichirō Imanishi TV series
2005 Memoirs of a Geisha Chairman
Batman Begins Ra's al Ghul's decoy
Year One in the North
(北の零年 Kita no zeronen)
Hideaki Komatsubara
2006 Memories of Tomorrow Masayuki Saeki First starring role
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 Saito
2012 Hayabusa: Harukanaru Kikan Professor Yamaguchi Junichiro
2013 Yurusarezaru Mono Jubei Kamata
Epic Kodo (voice) Special appearance
2014 Godzilla Dr. Serizawa
Transformers: Age of Extinction Drift[11] Voice
2015 Sea of Trees Takumi Nakamura Post-production
2016 Anger Yōhei Maki

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
2005 Batman Begins Ra's al Ghul Voice


  • 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)
  • The King and I (2015)

Awards and nominations

Year Organization Award Work Result
1987 Elandor Awards Newcomer Award Umi to Dokuyaku Won
1999 Japanese Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Kizuna Nominated[12]
2002 Japan Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Sennen no Koi Story of Genji Nominated[12]
2003 Japan Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Hi Wa Mata Noboru Nominated[12]
Washington DC Area Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor The Last Samurai Nominated[12]
2004 Academy Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated[12]
Saturn Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated[12]
Blue Ribbon Awards Special Award Won[12]
Broadcast Film Critics Association Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated[12]
Golden Globe Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated[12]
Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated[12]
Phoenix Film Critics Society Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated[12]
Satellite Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated[12]
Screen Actors Guild Awards Best Supporting Actor Nominated[12]
Television Drama Academy Awards (Winter) Best Supporting Actor Suna no Utsuwa Won[13]
2006 Hochi Film Awards Best Actor Memories of Tomorrow Won[12]
Nikkan Sports Film Awards Best Actor Won[12]
2007 Blue Ribbon Awards Best Actor Won[14]
Japan Academy Awards Best Actor Won[15]
Fujimoto Prize Special Prize Won[16]
Kinema Junpo Awards Best Actor Won[17]
2009 Hochi Film Awards Best Actor Shizumanu Taiyo Won[18]
2010 Japan Academy Awards Best Actor Won[19]
2015 Tony Awards Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical The King and I Nominated


  1. ^ """Ken Watanabe Receives 2015 Tony Nomination for "The King and I. April 29, 2015. 
  2. ^ Keck, William (2004-02-24). "Japanese Cruise". USA Today. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  3. ^ Watanabe in the Last Samurai
  4. ^ Corkill, Edan. "From Hollywood to Hirohito". The Japan Times. Retrieved 2014-02-19. 
  5. ^ Watanabe nominated for Academy Award
  6. ^
  7. ^ Japan Entertainment News Archives for May 2006
  8. ^ "kizuna311". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-04-12. 
  9. ^ kizuna311" a message from Ken Watanabe""". YouTube. Retrieved 2012-04-12. 
  10. ^ "Kizuna – Unity and Hope.Together we will prevail and overcome". Retrieved 2012-04-12. 
  11. ^ 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. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "Awards for Ken Watanabe". IMDB. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  13. ^ "Drama Academy Awards". Tokyograph. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  14. ^ "Blue Ribbon Awards: 'Hula Girl' Aoi on top". Tokyograph. 2009-01-24. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  15. ^ "Another win for 'Hula Girl' at Japan Academy Awards". Tokyograph. 2007-02-16. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  16. ^ "TBS producer wins Fujimoto Prize". Tokyograph. 2007-06-08. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  17. ^ "Kinema Junpo announces Best 10". Tokyograph. 2007-01-09. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  18. ^ "34th Hochi Film Awards". Tokyograph. 2009-11-28. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 
  19. ^ "33rd Japan Academy Awards". Tokyograph. 2010-03-06. Retrieved 2010-03-07. 

External links

  • Ken Watanabe at the Internet Movie Database
  • USA Today Interview
  • Interview
  • Watanabe Ken's JMDb Listing (in Japanese)
  • Hoga CentralKen Watanabe profile on
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