I sat down early this afternoon for a small round-table discussion with Letters From Iwo Jima star Ken Watanabe. Watanabe isn’t so much a smoothie as smoothly mannered, and very much the gentleman. He listens quietly and carefully to questions, and maintains good eye contact when replying. He occasionally uses dramatic pauses and deft body language to emphasize emotions. He was assisted by two translators, but his English sounded pretty good to me.

Letters From Iwo Jima star Ken Watanabe — Monday, 12.11.06, 12:55 pm — 18th floor of Manhattan’s Waldorf Astoria Hotel.

He plays a compassionate gentleman-hero type in LettersLt. General Tada- michi Kuribayashi, a bright, independent-minded hardcase with an old soul and an easy rapport with the lower-level foot soldiers. As the leader of the defending Japanese troops on Iwo Jima, he stands up for the little guy, occasionally pisses off his fellow bigwig officers, orders an unconventional island-defense involving the building of miles of underground caves and tunnels instead of the usual beachhead strategy, and generally goes his own way.
In short, Kuribayashi is a dignified rebel and, by anyone’s standards, a humanist hero. It’s a far more stirring and satisfying role for Watanabe than the ones he played in Memoirs of a Geisha or (poor fellow) The Last Samurai.
Here’s a recording of most of the discussion. The L line was against me this morning and so was the IRT Lex, so I came in a bit late and missed the first five minutes or so.