Exclusive: Ken Watanabe On Godzilla Being 'Reborn' and Disagreeing with Japanese Fans


GODZILLA star Ken Watanabe is revealing he felt compelled to join the cast of GODZILLA, and he's disagreeing with Japanese fans' criticism of Godzilla's new look.  

Ken Watanabe is no stranger to high octane action films. The Japanese-born star is best known to U.S. audiences for his Oscar-nominated role opposite Tom Cruise in The Last Samurai and scene-stealing supporting turns in Christopher Nolan's blockbusters like Batman Begins and Inception. He's also proven to be capable of handling poignant dramas like Rob Marshall's visually rich Memoirs of a Geisha and the Clint Eastwood helmed war epic Letters from Iwo Jima.

With GODZILLA, the theatrically trained star appears to be balancing both worlds. While the flick, a rebooted version of the classic monster franchise, is a popcorn-friendly summer release, its also grounded in social relevance.

Godzilla's debut in 1954 captured the state of Japanese anguish following Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For Watanabe, Gareth Edward's version coincides with more recent events in his home country.  

"In 1954, after World War II, 'Godzilla' was born out of fear of nuclear weapons," he points out. "Then three years ago in Japan, we experienced the collapse of the Nuclear Power Plant due to a major earthquake and Tsunami.

“‘Godzilla's metaphor, even after 60 years, fascinates so many people,” he tells CineMovie. “After all these years, our fears have not changed."

This accounted for one of several reasons why the actor was compelled to join the project and portray Dr. Ichiro Serizawa.

"When I got the offer for Godzilla, I knew I needed to join this project as a Japanese actor."


Watanabe adds that the film's impressive cast, which includes Bryan Cranston, Juliette Binoche and David Strathairn, was also part of the appeal.

"It's such a great cast, with so many talented actors and actresses, he says. "I was so excited to join them."

One of the prime highlights of the film is the newly crafted version of the famed daikaiju. The vividly constructed creature is far more frightening and capable in this version than in previous installments. Recently, Godzilla fans in Japan complained the American version of their iconic monster was "too fat" but he disagrees with the comparison.  

"In the Japanese versions of the story, Godzilla is just a person in a costume and slow moving. He's dull," he says. Though the actors did not see the reimagined monster during shooting, Watanabe was impressed after seeing the finished version of the film. "In this one, it's more real. Its skin tone, eyes, the way the tail moves. In the first scene of the movie, it's swimming!"

"In this version, his roar is so strong and loud but there's also a sadness," the 54-year-old adds. "It's as though he's calling out humanities foolishness. Godzilla is like a symbol for human consciousness."


Godzilla was last seen on U.S. screens in 1998, when Roland Emmerich released a remaining of the iconic story. Though the film was a hit, grossing over $379 million worldwide, it was largely panned by critics and fans of the original. This was not lost on Watanabe.  

"I was worried for sure. The last Hollywood version was not that good and I wondered if this (version) would be similar," he says with a laugh. "I spoke with Gareth and he's a 'Godzilla' fan and an admirer of Japanese culture and history. He appreciated the historical background of the character."

Indeed early reviews have praised the 3D reboot for preserving what audiences have come to love about the story while bringing in fresh concepts.

As Watanabe puts it, "With the 60th anniversary, it's as though Godzilla is reborn."

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