Ken Watanabe Infiltrates Dreams in Summer Blockbuster 'Inception'

A scene from 'Inception' (Warner Brothers)

Everyone is talking about Christopher Nolan's mind-bending summer blockbuster, Inception. And while Leonardo Dicaprio is technically the star of the film, fans of Ken Watanabe won't be disappointed by his excellent performance in the role of "Saito." In fact, with thousands of screaming Watanabe fans asking for autographs at the film's premiere in Tokyo, one might forget that he isn't the lead actor.

Americans are probably most familiar with Watanabe's performance in the The Last Samurai—a role that earned the actor an Oscar nomination in 2003. He continued to build his credentials as an international star with roles in Memoirs of a Geisha and Letters from Iwo Jima as well as Batman Begins, where he first worked with Nolan. However, in Japan, Watanabe has been a household name since the '80s, when he starred in a long-running television series called "Dokugan-ryu Masamune."

Nolan was so taken with Watanabe after working with the actor on the set of Batman that he created the role of Saito especially for him. The fact that Watanabe does not speak very much English says a lot about his strong presence as an actor.

"He's just got such incredible charisma, and he's such a huge movie star, it's amazing," Nolan said in an interview. "There's such a sensitivity in his performances. It's just been brilliant."

In Inception, Watanabe plays the scene-stealing bad guy "Saito," a wealthy Tokyo businessman who convinces Dicaprio's character to infiltrate the dreams of one of his business rivals. The movie is a complex sci-fi thriller that takes the viewer on a journey through layers and layers of dreams.

Sounds a little confusing for a summer blockbuster, but that hasn't stopped the film from becoming a box office hit in the US and now, Japan.

"I'm really proud to show this project. It's my country and really honored to join this project. We can show our project [in Tokyo]. It's really [an] honor," said Watanabe at the Tokyo premiere.

The Japanese version of the Inception trailer features Watanabe more heavily than the American one: