Makoto Iwamatsu

Pioneering Japanese-American actor Makoto Iwamatsu known to the public as Mako lost his battle with esophageal cancer on Friday July 21, 2006, at his home in Somis, California. In live-action circles, Mako is best-known for his Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated role as Po-han in 1966's The Sand Pebbles, and his Tony-nominated roles in Stephen Sondheim's Pacific Overtures. He also played Akiro the Wizard in the Conan movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Admiral Yamamoto in 2001's Pearl Harbor.

Mako was born in Kobe, Japan, on December 10, 1933. He was the son of the noted children’s book author and illustrator Taro Yashima. Mako lived with his grandparents in Japan during World War II, while his parents were in the U.S. working for the Office of War Information. He came to the U.S. after the war ended and joined the army. It was while acting in army shows that Mako’s thoughts first turned to becoming a professional actor. After completing his stint in the service, he studied at the Pasadena Community Playhouse and made his first screen appearance in The Ugly Dachshund.

His Career

While his name may not be familiar to most, his face certainly is, as he’s had an extensive acting career both on tv and the big screen for the past 40 years. It’s safe to say that EVERYONE has seen him in SOMETHING - probably many times over, yet not much seems to be known about this distinguished actor. He co-founded an Asian-American theater company, the East/West Players, with six other actors in 1965 and was noticed by Hollywood shortly thereafter. Mako’s first cinema role was in the 1959 film Never So Few. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role of Po-Han, the funny, tragic engine-room attendant and surprise boxing champ in the 1966 film The Sand Pebbles starring Steve McQueen, and for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical for the 1976 musical Pacific Overtures.

A martial arts expert, Mako later appeared in many standard-issue action films such as “Armed Response” (1986), “Silent Assassins” (1988) and “The Perfect Weapon” (1991), and played many Hawaiians onscreen, as in--appropriately enough--"The Hawaiians” (1970) and the TV series “Hawaiian Heat” (1984). He played Akiro the wizard in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s two “Conan” extravaganzas, but his more interesting roles have been in such offbeat items as “Tucker: The Man and His Dream” (1988); “The Wash” (1988), about the effects of divorce on a Japanese-American family; and “An Unremarkable Life” (1989), as a Chinese-American garage owner who disrupts the lives of two elderly sisters. More recently, he co-starred in one segment of the Showtime TV-movie “Riot” (1997), which examined the 1992 L.A. riots from the points of view of various city residents.

He has a motion picture star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7095 Hollywood Blvd. 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 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 is survived by his wife, dancer, choreographer and actress Shizuko Hoshi, and their daughters Sala and Mimosa.