Makoto "Mako" Iwamatsu (December 10, 1933 – July 21, 2006) was a Japanese American actor and voice artist who was nominated for numerous awards.
Mako was born in Kobe, Japan, the son of noted children's book author and illustrator Taro Yashima. His parents moved to the United States when he was a small child. He joined them there after World War II, in 1949, joining the military in the 1950s. He became a naturalized American citizen in 1956. When Mako first joined his parents in the USA, he studied architecture. During his military service, he discovered his theatrical talent, and on leaving trained at the Pasadena Community Playhouse.
Mako was married to actress Shizuko Hoshi with whom he had two daughters (both are actresses) and three grandchildren.
Mako's first cinema role was in the 1959 film Never So Few. In 1965, frustrated by the limited roles available to himself and other Asian American actors, Mako and 6 others formed the East West Players theatre company, first performing out of a church basement. The company is one of the earliest Asian American theatre organizations, and not only provided a venue for Asian American actors to train and perform, but nurtured many Asian American playwrights. Mako remained artistic director of the company until 1989.
He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1966 film The Sand Pebbles. Other roles include the Chinese contract laborer Mun Ki in the 1970 epic movie The Hawaiians starring Charlton Heston and Tina Chen, the sorcerer Nakano in Highlander III, the Wizard Akiro, opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger, in the two Conan movies Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer, the Japanese agent in the comedy Under the Rainbow, Mr Lee in Sidekicks, Kanemitsu in RoboCop 3 in 1993, Kungo Tsarong in Seven Years in Tibet, and Admiral Yamamoto in the 2001 film, Pearl Harbor. He also had a role in Bulletproof Monk. In 2005, Mako had a cameo role in Memoirs of a Geisha. Mako's last leading role was in the 2005 film Cages, written and directed by Graham Streeter.
He appeared on the TV show McHale's Navy several times, playing Imperial Japanese officers, soldiers and sailors. He also later appeared on the TV show M*A*S*H, playing multiple roles such as a Chinese doctor, North Korean soldier, and South Korean major. He was the blind philosopher Li Sung in two episodes of the TV show The Incredible Hulk. Mako also appeared in an episode of the TV show F Troop. He also fought Bruce Lee in an episode of The Green Hornet. He played Jackie Chan's uncle/Sifu in Chan's first American movie The Big Brawl. Mako voiced Commander Shima in the video game Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. He also was a guest star in an episode of Monk. His last "made-for-TV" movie appears to be Rise: Blood Hunter in 2007.
Mako's Broadway career included creating the role of "The Reciter" in the original production of Pacific Overtures in 1976 (for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical) and starring in the limited run of the play Shimada. in 1992.
He was the voice actor of the evil demon Aku in the animated series Samurai Jack, and as the parody of Aku, Achoo, in Duck Dodgers, as well as Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender. He had a guest appearance in the Nickelodeon movie Rugrats in Paris: The Movie as the boss of Coco. He guest-starred in the episode "A Good Day" of The West Wing as an economics professor and former rival of President Bartlet.
Mako died in California on July 21, 2006, aged 72, from esophageal cancer.
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