Few Japanese actors have transcended both domestic and international film as have Ken Watanabe (渡辺謙). Known for his unique voice, incredible acting skills, and range of performances he is definitely one of the most recognisable faces of Japanese acting. He has prevailed in the land of domestic and international show business, all while facing some difficult health battles in the past, and now again in the present. Let’s take a brief look at the man – Ken Watanabe.
Watanabe’s videography is quite extensive, so I have included my two main favourites only, and those, of course, featured in English.
The Last Samurai – 2003:
A slightly controversial film, as it has been accused of changing Japanese history to cater to western tastes, and therefore, not being truly authentic in origin. I am a fan nonetheless, as it is a great example of costume design, cinematography, and cool Samurai running to and fro. Watanabe makes a great impression as the Samurai leader, and dominates in the battlefield. Also, he manages to keep up with the acting veteran, Tom Cruise who in my opinion, overshadows him in parts.
Memoirs of a Geisha – 2005 (Sayuri in Japanese):
Again, controversial in this particular land, due to likening Geisha to prostitutes, but I still happen to love this film. It brings you back to a different time, a time when a little girl is excessively happy to receive a simple gift of shaved ice (kakigori) rather than a game console; and the sight of beautiful Gion that doesn’t include vending machines or internet guides. Yes, some of the details in the storyline may be off, but it is a great example of cinematography. Watanabe plays a great businessman and befriender of the less fortunate.
Watanabe is also quite the advocate for those in need. After the devastating earthquake in 2011, he tried to increase donations and support for victims in Tohoku and even made a supporting website to increase donations and awareness, where over $300,000 was raised in aid. You can check out the website and kizuna311 video.
A great actor with a generous heart and an all ’round great guy if you ask me!
Sadly, despite being only 56, Watanabe has been plagued with a myriad of health problems.
According to online biography pages and news sources, the actor has battled leukaemia in 1989, overcame it, only to be faced with a return of the disease in 1994. However, he beat it again like a champ, or so it was believed.
Watanabe publicly stated that he was suffering from Hepatitis C in 2006. In fact, he is one of the celebrities listed with the disease on Everyday Health, a health and wellness website.
Just recently, on January 9th, he revealed that he is now battling stomach cancer. Therefore, he has to take time off from acting to focus on his health. He has already undergone surgery according to news sources and is preparing himself for a triumphant return to broadway, according to his personal statement.
Give some positive thoughts to Watanabe by either dropping him a message online, or watch one of his iconic performances. We wish you the best Ken, and hope you pull through!