- Breakout role in Japan came with the popular 1985 comedy Tompopo (Dandelion).
- Was diagnosed with leukemia in 1989 but continued to act while undergoing chemotherapy; suffered a relapse in 1994 that kept him in the hospital for more than a year.
- Made his American film debut in the 2003 epic The Last Samurai.
- In 2005, began treatment for hepatitis C, contracted while undergoing blood transfusions during his first bout of leukemia.
- Released an autobiography, Dare? Who Am I?, in 2006 in Japan.
- Took a leadership role in efforts to assist victims of the 2011 earthquake in Japan.
- It was announced in 2012 that he would take part in a documentary about Japan's earthquake relief efforts.
- Active in efforts to battle climate change.
- 2004, Golden Globe — Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture: Nominee
- 2003, Oscar — Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role: Nominee
- 2003, Screen Actors Guild Awards — Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role: Nominee
- 2015, Tony — Actor (Musical): Nominee
- 2004, Critics' Choice Awards — Best Supporting Actor: Nominee
- An Watanabe — Daughter
- Shin Shinitiro — Son
- Kaho Minami — Wife
- Yumiko Watanabe — Ex-wife
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