Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Ken Watanabe Puts Heart In Latest Film

A press conference was held on Monday at Yongsan CGV theaters for Ken Watanabe, the star of the film "Memories of Tomorrow." It was his first visit to Korea.

While it's not uncommon for foreign actors to come to Korea to promote their movies, Ken's visit was impressive in two ways.

The Japanese star is also a Hollywood heavyweight, with roles in "Batman Begins," "Memoirs of a Geisha," and "Letters from Iwo Jima" and a best supporting actor Oscar nomination for his part in "The Last Samurai." And yet he personally booked his plane ticket and came to Korea on his own without a single assistant.

"I think some other actors might be a little over-protected," Ken said of his travel arranging skills. "I went to London on my own when we shot 'Batman Begins.' It's just a normal thing for a person to do, nothing about being an actor."

The second impressive feat was the way he answered some questions in Korean, despite the fact that he doesn't speak Korean. A lot of visiting actors can manage a simple "gam-sa-hap-ni-da" or "thank you", but Ken uttered full sentences as he talked about why he made the movie (he was impressed by the original novel).

"I made the movie with my heart," Ken said in Korean. "I want to deliver this heart to a precious person." The movie he claims to have "made with his heart" is a human drama about a man who loses his memories to Alzheimer's disease over the course of seven years. It's a particularly interesting choice for Ken considering his past struggle with leukemia.

The details aren't clear, but Ken is known to have stopped working for almost eight years after being diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia 19 years ago. And in fact the opening scene of the movie depicts the Alzheimer's diagnosis in a doctor's office.

"I'm seldom aware of my disease, but a closed box really opened up on me while we were shooting that first scene," Ken said.

Yet even this film wasn't enough to get the actor to discuss his real-life battle with illness. "Even two hours wouldn't be enough to talk about that. I'd rather avoid the topic because it might cause some misunderstanding for people suffering the disease, or for their families."

He added, "My father had a stroke at age 42, and my mother looked after him for nearly 30 years. There were a lot of things I wasn't aware of while we were filming the movie, but I realized many of them when we finished."

Ken's connection with Korea was also the topic of conversation. Ken married Kaho Minami in December 2005. "I heard that my mother-in-law comes twice a year to visit her ancestor's grave since she is from Busan, but I came too late to join her," Ken said.

As for Korean movies, Ken spoke about "Song Kang-ho" and "Bong Joon-ho" describing them as "respectable" and "excellent."