Gojira! Not Godzilla

Gojira! Not Godzilla
Kaho Minami (L) and actor Ken Watanabe arrive for the Los Angeles premiere of "Godzilla," May 8, 2014 at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood.

When there is a need for a stately Japanese character in a starring role in a big movie, Ken Watanabe's name is often at the top of Hollywood's list.

After all, it's been that way since his Oscar-nominated US debut in Tom Cruise's The Last Samurai (2003).

He was also the respectable businessman in Memoirs Of A Geisha (2005), a general in Clint Eastwood's Letters From Iwo Jima (2006) and boasts two acclaimed movies helmed by Christopher Nolan - Batman Begins (2005) and Inception (2010).

So when it came time to cast Japanese scientist Dr Ishiro Serizawa in the latest big-budget remake of Godzilla, which stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Bryan Cranston, Watanabe was the obvious choice.

When we met him recently at JW Marriott Essex House in New York for a round-table interview, the 54-year-old told M that he was initially afraid Gareth Edwards would destroy his country's revered icon.

But when he learnt about Edwards' vision for Godzilla - and how much he respected Japanese culture and what Godzilla means to Japan - Watanabe agreed to join the production.


"He's a symbol of human conscience. To me, there's some sadness in its roar. It's like he's scolding humanity's foolishness for what we did to nature.

"He was born out of fear after World War II, when people began to be fascinated by nuclear weapons.

"After 60 years, we are still facing similar challenges. We worry over nuclear plant meltdowns - especially when earthquakes hit us, such as what happened to Fukushima."


"I insisted that the first mention of the name must come from me. That's very important to me (as a Japanese).

"When I said the name, Gareth and the other Western producer asked me to pronounce it the English way - Godzilla. I refused.

"To me, he's Gojira, never Godzilla!"


"I have a good life in Tokyo. I don't have paparazzi following me as they are all afraid of me.

"I think it's better for me to be invited over to Hollywood as a Japanese actor. Then I can bring a different sense of culture, a different mindset and perspective to a movie.

"Also, as English is not my native language, it will be difficult for me to be a Hollywood actor."


This article by The New Paper was published in MyPaper, a free, bilingual newspaper published by Singapore Press Holdings.

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