Ken Watanabe is Battling Cancer Yet Again

2016 really knows no chill. Tony and Oscar-nominated actor Ken Watanabe has been diagnosed with stomach cancer. Japan Times and Kyodo News report that that the 56-year-old actor has already undergone surgery in order to remove the tumor, and is currently recuperating in a hospital. This has delayed his return to Broadway theaters in the 2015 revival of The King and I, alongside Kelli O’Hara.

English-speaking audiences best know Ken Watanabe for his roles in The Last Samurai (2003), Batman Begins (2005), Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), Letters from Iwo Jima (2006), Inception (2010), and Godzilla (2014). He voiced Drift in Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014). However, in his home country, Watanabe-san has been performing on stage and in front of the cameras since the 1980s. He got his first big break with Tokyo-based theater troupe En, and made his first TV appearance in 1982. He is widely recognized in Japan for playing Date Masamune in the 50-episode NHK drama Dokuganryu Masamune (1987).

Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto in the Last Samurai
Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto in the Last Samurai. He often plays samurai and tragic heroes.

Watanabe-san has an invaluable place in cinema and theater, especially since both Broadway and Hollywood continuously suffer from a lack of racial representation. He was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in The Last Samurai. He has won the Japan Academy Price for Best Actor twice, in 2007 (for Memories of Tomorrow) and 2010 (for Shimanu Taiyo). He has also received his first Tony nomination for Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical for The King and I. We note that he’s the first Japanese actor who has been nominated for this category.


Apparently, this is not the first time that Ken Watanabe has had a brush with cancer. In 1989, he was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He returned to acting in the following year, ended up suffering a relapse in 1991, but also managed to kick that in the nads. It is heartening to learn that he has survived before, but this recent run-in is still a serious matter.

We would like to have faith that he will.

Other Sources: The Big Story, Entertainment Weekly, NBC 

Pam Punzalan

29, female, not in Narnia about anything. Games, teaches, writes, reads, flails, smokes, occasionally drinks, loves cats. Answers to Kae, Pamela, Pam, Pam-Pam, Pammy, Pammeth. Pamera, and Pammu. Also part of the admin team of Girls Got Game, over at!

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