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Born: 10 December 1933 (Kobe, Japan)
Death: 21 July 2006 (Somis, California, USA)
Cause of Death: Esophageal Cancer
Film and TV Appearances: 157+
Years Active: 1959 - 2007
Award Nominations: 4 (1 Win)
Hawaii Five-O (1968-1980)
Mako Iwamatsu (his mother's surname) was born to Mitsu and Taro Yashima in Japan in 1933. His parents moved to the United States of America when he was young so that they could study art leaving him in the care of his grandparents.
Shortly after the end of the Second World War, he joined his parents in the USA and had initially intended on becoming an architect. He began his studies at the Pratt Institute but was soon distracted by his interest in acting, which caused him to fail his course.
After a two-year stint in the United States Army, he enrolled at the Pasadena Community Playhouse to study acting.
I came to America to become an architect. And somewhere along the line while I was still in school, I was lured into theater, and that's how I became interested in theater. My first play was something called 'A Banquet for the Moon.' It was a weird play.— Mako
Mako made his film debut in Never So Few (1959) in an uncredited role. After another uncredited appearance in McHale's Navy Joins the Airforce (1965), he received his first credited role in The Ugly Daschund (1966) as Kenji.
Some of the other films he appeared in were The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell (1968); The Great Bank Robbery (1969); Master of the Islands (1970): The Island at the Top of the World (1974); The Killer Elite (1975); Hito Hata: Raise the Banner (1980); An Eye for an Eye (1981); Conan the Barbarian (1982); Testament (1983); Conan the Destroyer (1984); Armed Response (1986); The Wash (1988); An Unremarkable Life (1989); Taking Care of Business (1990); Strawberry Road (1991); Sidekicks (1992); Robocop 3 (1993); Red Sun Rising (1994); Crying Freeman (1995); Sworn to Justice (1996); Seven Years in Tibet (1997); The Bird People in China (1998); Owls' Castle (1999); Pearl Harbor (2001); Cruel Game (2002); Bulletproof Monk (2003); Memoirs of a Geisha (2005); and Rise: Blood Hunter (2007).
In 1967, he was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actor in a Supporting Role and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor for his role as Po-han in the film The Sand Pebbles (1966).
Battle Creek Brawl (1980)
Made for Television movies he appeared in were The Challenge (1970); If Tomorrow Comes (1971); Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders (1974); Pacific Overtures (1976); Farewell to Manzanar (1976); When Hell was in Session (1979); The Last Ninja (1983); Death Rides to Osaka (1984); Kung Fu: The Movie (1986); Murder in Paradise (1990); Guns of Paradise (1990); Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes (1990); Riot (1997); Samurai Jack: The Premiere Movie (2001); and Sokoku (2005).
Television shows he has a regular role in were...
- Romance Theater: A Fragile Affair (1982) as Shibata - five episodes
- Hawaiian Heat (1984) as Major Taro Oshira - ten episodes plus a TV movie
- Black Slash (2003) as Master Li - six episodes
Some of the TV shows he guest starred on were The Lloyd Bridges Show; Ensign O'Toole; McHale's Navy; Burke's Law; I Spy; The F.B.I.; Mr. T and Tina; The Incredible Hulk; M*A*S*H; Quincy M.E.; The A-Team; Spenser: For Hire; The Equalizer; Lovejoy; Kung Fu: The Legend Continues; Martial Law; Walker, Texas Ranger; and Monk.
The Big Valley (1965-1969)
His first role as a voice actor was for the film Nightingale (1992) as the Narrator. Other films he voice acted on were Rugrats in Paris (2000); and TMNT (2007).
On television, he voice acted in the following series...
- Dexter's Laboratory (1996-2003) as the Narrator - 13 episodes
- Samurai Jack (2001-2016) as Aku - 23 episodes from 2001-2004
- Duck Dodgers (2003-2005) as Happy Cat - four episodes
- Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005-2008) as Uncle Iroh - 30 episodes plus one TV movie
He also lent his voice to a number of video games including Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader; Secret Weapons Over Normandy; and Medal of Honor: Rising Sun.
Diagnosis Murder (1993-2002)
The first Asian American theater company, the East-West players was co-founded by Mako in 1965. He was the company's artistic director training many actors and playwrights until 1989.
In 1976, Mako made his Broadway debut in the play Pacific Overtures, performing three roles - the Reciter, Shogun, and Jonathan Goble. He received a nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Musical for his performance. The only other play he appeared on Broadway was in Shimada in 1992.
Mako was awarded a star for his film work on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1994. It can be found on the north side of the 7000 block of Hollywood Boulevard. In 2002, he was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award at Bearfest - Big Bear Lake International Film Festival.
“I go into a young film director’s office these days and he says, ‘Hey man, I know who you are. I grew up watching “McHale’s Navy.” ’ And I think, ‘Oh boy, here we go again.’ ”— Mako
He was married to Shizuko Hoshi, actress and later theater director. They remained married until his death and had two daughters. In 1956, he became an American citizen.
Mako died from Esophageal Cancer in 2006. He is buried at Pierce Brothers Valley Oaks Memorial Park, Westlake Village, Los Angeles County, California.
The Sand Pebbles (1966)
Mako co-stars in his Best Supporting Actor Oscar-nominated role as Po-Han.