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Ken Watanabe

Ken Watanabe

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Also Known As: Kensaku Watanabe Died:
Born: October 21, 1959 Cause of Death:
Birth Place: Koide, Niigata, JP Profession: actor

Biography CLOSE THE FULL BIOGRAPHY

It is no wonder that actor Ken Watanabe has played many roles as a Japanese samurai throughout much his career. Like the warriors of old, Watanabe has practiced a code of humility, honor and modesty with his approach to acting and stardom-even his first name is a common moniker meaning modesty. Watanabe has also faced death with the fearlessness of the samurai when he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1989. Though he would eventually recover, Watanabe spent the first half of the 1990s in and out of the hospital. But he never despaired and once healthy, Watanabe continued his venerable acting career with the same command for respect and integrity of the most ardent warrior.Watanabe was born on October 21, 1959 and grew up in the small mountain village of Niigata, Japan. His father and mother were both teachers: his dad taught calligraphy (a skill Watanabe learned) and his mom general education. Watanabe spent his childhood exploring and skiing the surrounding mountains of his village with older brother, Jun. Watanabe attempted to play the trumpet, but his musical abilities were limited. At the very least, Watanabe discovered a zeal for performing. The failed musician eventually turned to acting when he...

It is no wonder that actor Ken Watanabe has played many roles as a Japanese samurai throughout much his career. Like the warriors of old, Watanabe has practiced a code of humility, honor and modesty with his approach to acting and stardom-even his first name is a common moniker meaning modesty. Watanabe has also faced death with the fearlessness of the samurai when he was diagnosed with leukemia in 1989. Though he would eventually recover, Watanabe spent the first half of the 1990s in and out of the hospital. But he never despaired and once healthy, Watanabe continued his venerable acting career with the same command for respect and integrity of the most ardent warrior.

Watanabe was born on October 21, 1959 and grew up in the small mountain village of Niigata, Japan. His father and mother were both teachers: his dad taught calligraphy (a skill Watanabe learned) and his mom general education. Watanabe spent his childhood exploring and skiing the surrounding mountains of his village with older brother, Jun. Watanabe attempted to play the trumpet, but his musical abilities were limited. At the very least, Watanabe discovered a zeal for performing. The failed musician eventually turned to acting when he joined the theater troop En in 1982 and made his stage debut in "Shitaya Mannen-cho Monogatari," for which he received good notices. Watanabe then appeared on television for the first time in "Michinaru Hanran" that same year, then later starred as his first samurai in the television drama, "Mibu no koiuta." The actor made another crossover, this time to film, when he appeared in a small role in "Setouchi shonen yakyudan" ("MacArthur's Children," 1984), a film about a generation of Japanese children who grew up after World War II under the occupation of General MacArthur.

Watanabe became a star with his role in the NHK TV series, "Dokuganryu Masamune" (One-Eyed Dragon, Masamune, 1987), a highly popular samurai drama. Also that same year, Watanabe won the Ecran d'Or Best New Actor Award from the Japan Film and Television Producers Society for the film "Umi to dokuyaku" ("The Sea is Poison," 1987). It was while working on "Ten to chi to" ("Heaven and Earth," 1990) that Watanabe learned he had leukemia. Unable to finish the film, Watanabe receded to television where he was lucky enough to even work, since many directors were concerned he might not be able to finish a project. Watanabe underwent treatment, which appeared successful, but five years later he succumbed to the cancer again. Watanabe spent the next few years in and out of the hospital-one stay lasted a full year. But upon recovery, Watanabe returned to the film world with a vengeance, garnishing three Japanese Academy Award nominations in four years for his roles in "Kizuna" (1998), "Sennen no koi - hikaru genji monogatari" (2002) and "Hi wa mata noboru" (2002).

Next Watanabe was cast in "The Last Samurai" (2003), the first American film in his long career. Though Watanabe was an unknown in the states, he stole the show from co-star Tom Cruise, and almost immediately there was buzz for an Oscar nomination. As the titular character of the story, Watanabe played Katsumoto, the last of a dying breed of samurai warriors who fight to preserve their culture in the face of rampant modernization. Matching Cruise in charisma and presence, Watanabe's absorbing performance earned him an Academy Award nomination as Best Supporting Actor. Hot off of his breakthrough performance, the actor was cast the enigmatic Ra's al Ghul, leader of the League of Shadows, who opposes a young Bruce Wayne in "Batman Begins" (2005), a relaunch of the popular film franchise focusing on the superhero's shadowy origins. He segued right into his next high profile feature, "Memoirs of a Geisha" (2005), the story of a Japanese girl torn from her penniless family and raised in a geisha house where she blossoms into the legendary geisha, Sayuri (Ziyi Zhang). Watanabe played the rich and handsome Chairman, the one man for whom Sayuri yearns yet cannot have.

Wantanabe was set to star in yet another high profile feature, "Pathfinder" (2007), a remake of the 1987 Norwegian historical adventure about a Viking boy left behind during a skirmish between his people and Native Americans one thousand years ago. Raised by the Native Americans as one of their own, the boy grows up to become his adoptive people's savior in battling a new wave of invading Norsemen.

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Filmographyclose complete filmography

CAST: (feature film)

1.
 Sea of Trees (2015)
2.
 Silence (2015)
3.
 Shanghai (2015)
4.
 Transformers 4 (2014)
5.
 Godzilla (2014)
6.
 Hayabusa (2012)
8.
9.
 Inception (2010)
10.
 Shizumanu Taiyô (2009)
VIEW THE FULL FILMOGRAPHY

Milestones close milestones

1978:
Studied acting in Tokyo after high school
1980:
Joined the training studio ENGEKI-SYUDAN EN
1981:
His first appearance on the stage was the main role of "Shitaya mannencho monogatari"
1982:
Made television debut in "Michinaru Hanran"
1982:
Starred in his first samurai TV drama series, "Mibu no koiuta"
1984:
Made his film debut in "Setouchi shonen yakyudan (MacArther's Children)"
1985:
Appeared in the comedy feature "Tampopo," billed as the first Japanese noodle Western, which offered a satirical view of the relationship between food and sex
1987:
Crossed over into stardom after playing the main character of "Dokuganryu Masamune (One eyed dragon, Masamune )," a one year-long TV samurai drama series
1988:
Starred in the film "Karate Warrior"
1989:
While acting in Haruki Kadokawa's "Heaven and Earth," in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, discovered he had leukemia
1990:
Recovered from illness and appeared in the film "Bakumatsu junjouden"
1994:
Suffered a relapse and returned to the hospital; overcame the illness and began appearing on TV dramas a year later
1998:
Returned to features in "Kizuna," co-starring Kouji Yakusho
2001:
Returned to the stage after 13 years
2002:
Played two Heian-period noblemen, Michinaga Fujiwara and the husband of Lady Murasaki in "Sennen no koi -hikaru genji monogatari (Genji, a thousand-year love )"
2003:
Mainstream debut, opposite Tom Cruise and Hiroyuki Sanada in "The Last Samurai"; earned a Golden Globe, SAG and Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor
2005:
Cast as Ra's al-Ghul's decoy in "Batman Begins" opposite Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman
2005:
Cast as high-powered executive the Chairman in film version of Arthur Golden's best-selling novel "Memoirs of a Geisha," directed by Rob Marshall
2006:
Starred in the Clint Eastwood WWII epic "Letters from Iwo Jima," told from the Japanese viewpoint
2006:
Starred in the Japanese drama "Ashita no Kioku (Memories of Tomorrow)"
2006:
Published autobiography <i>Dare? ¿ Who Am I?</i>
2009:
Played Hibernius Tall in the feature adaptation of "Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant"
2010:
Co-starred with Leonardo DiCaprio in the Christopher Nolan-directed sci-fi thriller "Inception"
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Education

Koide High School: - 1978

Notes

Ken was named one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People for 2004

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