Ken Watanabe was born on October 21, 1959 in Niigata Prefecture, Japan.
In 1978, he moved to Tokyo to pursue his career as an actor. He drew attention of the critics when Yukio Ninagawa, a famous Japanese director, chose him for the lead role in one of his plays even though he was still an acting student.
He played a samurai leader hero, that made him a household name in Japan. In 1989 when he was shooting a movie in Canada, he collapsed because of Leukemia. He made a miraculous comeback and in 2003 "_The Last Samurai_" where he co-starred with Tom Cruise pushed him to a center stage of Hollywood. "The Last Samurai" is his 15th movie. He is a fanatic fan of Hanshin Tigers (Japanese professional baseball team) and Kobe Steel rugby team. He loves noodles.
Children: son, actor Dai Watanabe (born August 1st 1984) and daughter, Anne (born 1986).
Already extremely tall by Japanese standards, he gained a good amount of weight (about 20 pounds) to be an even more imposing presence for his role as Katsumoto in "The Last Samurai."
One of eight actors of Asian descent nominated for an Academy Award in an acting category. The others are Miyoshi Umeki who won Best Supporting Actress for Sayonara (1957), Sessue Hayakawa nominated for The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), Mako nominated for The Sand Pebbles (1966), Ben Kingsley who won Best Actor for Gandhi (1982), Haing S. Ngor who won Best Supporting Actor for The Killing Fields (1984), Pat Morita nominated for The Karate Kid (1984), and Rinko Kikuchi nominated for Babel (2006).
Was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia in 1989. Since then he had fallen ill only once in 1994, but is now a fully recovered actor.
"I'm not a big star in Japan. I'm an actor. I have a very normal life. Four days a week, I cook at home. A star doesn't do that."