WATANABE Ken first gained worldwide recognition for his role in Edward ZWICK’s The Last Samurai (2003), opposite Tom CRUISE. For his performance as honorable warrior Katsumoto in the film, WATANABE received Oscar, Screen Actors Guild Award, Golden Globe, and Critics’ Choice Award nominations. Since that breakthrough film, WATANABE has remained active in Hollywood, working with world-renowned filmmakers such as Clint EASTWOOD, Christopher NOLAN, Gus VAN SANT and Wes ANDERSON. In 2006, WATANABE starred and executively produced Memories of Tomorrow, for which he earned an Asian Film Awards nomination for Best Actor, as well as multiple Best Actor awards back at home in Japan. His most recent Japanese-speaking role in Rage (2016) was also praised by critics. WATANABE will next be seen on the big screen in Godzilla: King of Monsters (2019) and Detective Pikachu (2019).
Arguably the most well-known Asian actor working in world cinema today, WATANABE Ken has starred in multiple hit Hollywood films, including two Christopher NOLAN blockbusters and Academy Award-nominated animated comedy, Isle Of Dogs (2018). He’s also a prolific stage actor, having recently wrapped up the West End run of The King and I, for which he became the first Japanese actor to receive a Tony Award nomination. Paul WEITZ, director of Bel Canto (2018), WATANABE’s most recent film, has high praise for the actor: “WATANABE has a lovely sense of humour and a physical grace.”
This year, Asian Film Awards is honoured that the prestigious actor has joined the jury as the Celebrity Juror. This is the first time for the self-professed film buff to serve as a juror of a film award: “This is the first time I’ve seen films from a juror’s perspective. However, I want to enjoy it as much as possible as a member of the regular audience too.” WATANABE worked closely with Jury President Joan CHEN, an actress who, like WATANABE, leads a successful career in Hollywood while actively working in her home country’s productions as well. WATANABE has nothing but praise for his Jury President: “Joan CHEN is a wonderful actress, and I think she has a unique point of view as a female director. Her distinctive vision has left a deep impression on me. I’m so grateful to work with her on the Asian Film Awards jury.”
Every person has a different taste in film. What criteria does a film have to meet for WATANABE to consider something he’s seen to be a great film? “A great film keeps your eyes on the screen while it’s playing and it stays in your mind even after the curtain falls. A great film will keep you in its world for half your day.”
As a bilingual actor with an active career in both Japan and the US, WATANABE works all over the world with film crews and actors from different countries. Even though it keeps him busy year-round, he admits to enjoying the jet-setting career: “It allows me to experience various cultures. I’m sometimes intrigued to see differences between cultures whilst working in different countries.”
With an acting career that began in 1978, WATANABE has spent 40 years honing his craft and accumulating life experiences. He offers a succinct and meaningful advice for young aspiring actors: “Be passionate about seeing new things and meeting new people. Maintain a passion for making great films.”