Entertainment & Arts

Ken Watanabe delays Broadway return for cancer treatment

Ken Watanabe Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ken Watanabe was nominated for his role in The King and I, in which he starred with Kelli O'Hara

Last Samurai star Ken Watanabe has revealed he is suffering from stomach cancer.

The illness has forced the 56-year-old Japanese actor to delay his return to the Broadway musical The King and I in order to have treatment.

The Oscar-nominated actor has had endoscopic surgery and is recuperating in a hospital in Japan, his agent said.

Watanabe made his US stage debut last year in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic and was to return in March.

He won critical acclaim for his 2015 performance, with the New York Times for example, saying Watanabe played his role "with the convincing exasperation of a majesty under siege".

His run in the show, opposite actress Kelli O'Hara, ended in July and Watanabe became the first Japanese actor to be nominated for a Tony Award.

In a statement, he said: "I would like to ask for your understanding that the start of my performance in New York will be a little delayed."

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Ken Watanabe has battled cancer before

Watanabe, who has previously battled leukaemia, was diagnosed "almost miraculously early" with stomach cancer last month and underwent surgery, he said.

"I was really shocked, my wife and daughter pushed me to have a health check and the cancer was found. It was a very early stage and they operated immediately," he added.

Watanabe was nominated for an Academy Award for best supporting actor for 2003's The Last Samurai, in which he co-starred with Tom Cruise.

He has also featured in Christopher Nolan's Batman Begins and Inception, the 2014 reboot of Godzilla and was a voice actor for the fourth instalment of the Transformers franchise, Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Watanabe hails from the Niigata region of north-west Japan. He went straight into acting after leaving school and became known in his home country for his samurai roles.

The actor was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia in 1989 but resumed acting while still undergoing chemotherapy. He became ill again in the early 1990s and, following further treatment, has been in remission since.

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