I Am Samurai

''Japanese culture is proud of its nuance and its ritual, and nobody more so than Ken,'' says Zwick, who was schooled in just how wrong it is for anyone to look Japan's monarch in the eye. ''In the kindest way, he was absolutely ferocious.''

It's exactly that combination of fire and ice that gets attention in Hollywood. And Ken Watanabe, modesty and all, can tell. ''There was a party after the premiere,'' he says, ''and that was the first time it felt different for me. How people looked at me. People looked at me like, Ah!...''

The English words may not come easily, but nothing's lost in translation: People won't be avoiding him any longer.

Originally posted Dec 19, 2003 Published in issue #742 Dec 19, 2003 Order article reprints