Being a Japanese actor, Ken Watanabe is well-known among English-speaking audiences for his tragic hero characters like General Tadamichi Kuribayashi in Letters from Iwo Jima and Lord Katsumoto Moritsugu in The Last Samurai. For his contribution, he has received the Japan Academy Prize for Best Actor twice, in 2007 for Memories of Tomorrow and in 2010 for Shizumanu Taiyō. In April 2015, he first appeared in Broadway stage as The King in Lincoln Center Theater's revival production of The King and I, which made him become the first Japanese actor to receive Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical at the 69th Tony Awards.
After graduating from Niigata Prefectural Koide High School, where he became a member of the concert band club, playing trumpet, in 1978, he began acting career in Tokyo-based theater troupe En with the hero role in the play Shimodani Mannencho Monogatari.
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