James Saburo Shigeta (June 17, 1929 – July 28, 2014) was an American film and television actor. He was also a standards singer, musical theatre and nightclub performer, and recording artist. He was a Sansei, a third-generation American of Japanese ancestry. He was noted for his roles in The Crimson Kimono (1959), Walk Like a Dragon (1960), Flower Drum Song (1961), Bridge to the Sun (1961), Die Hard (1988), and Mulan (1998). In 1960, he won the Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Newcomer – Male, along with three other actors.
Shigeta often in his early career played romantic male lead roles, which as an actor of Asian descent during his time was almost non-existent. His most successful romantic lead roles were in the films The Crimson Kimono and Bridge to the Sun.
Before his Hollywood career he found success as a singer and performer abroad, especially in Japan and Australia.
Born in the Territory of Hawaii of Japanese ancestry in 1929, Shigeta studied drama at New York University. Before he could fully embark on a business career, Shigeta enlisted to serve in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War where he served for two-and-a-half years, and rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant.
Shigeta entered and won first prize on Ted Mack's television talent show, The Original Amateur Hour. Embarking on a singing career, his agent at the time gave him the non-ethnic sounding stage name of "Guy Brion" alluding to Shigeta as a cultured European. Under his new name he developed a supper club musical career in the United States, singing at venues such as the Mocambo and the Los Angeles Players Club. Despite that success, breaking into the movies eluded him.
During the Korean War Shigeta enlisted in the United States Marine Corps, where he entertained troops in California. En route to Korea, the ceasefire led Shigeta to Japan, where he was discharged from the Marines and hired by the theatrical division of Toho Studios.
Shigeta did not speak the Japanese language until Toho Studios in Tokyo invited him to be a musical star under his real name in Japan. He spent years in that country, becoming a success in all media aspects — radio, television, stage, supper clubs, movies, recordings — being known as "The Frank Sinatra of Japan".
In 1958 the Nichigeki Theatre in Tokyo exported their extravaganza Cherry Blossom Show to Australia with Shigeta as the male lead. The show was performed at the Empire Theatre in Sydney, Her Majesty's Theatre in Brisbane, the Theatre Royal in Adelaide, and Her Majesty's Theatre in Melbourne. The show was a big success, with one Australian reviewer writing about Shigeta, "... has matinee idol good looks and a soothing baritone voice that should send the record companies mad for his autograph on recording contracts."
Shigeta returned to the United States to sing on The Dinah Shore Show. By 1959 he was the star of the Shirley MacLaine-Steve Parker production of Holiday in Japan at the New Frontier Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas.
In 1969 Shigeta toured the United States in the lead role of The King and I, with Melva Niles and Pam Cavan co-starring in the production.
When movies began to open up for him, Shigeta took acting lessons from seasoned dialogue coach Leon Charles.
Shigeta first came on screen in the U.S., in 1959 as Detective Joe Kojaku in The Crimson Kimono, a detective story that featured an interracial romantic triangle between Kojaku, his partner Sgt. Charlie Bancroft (played by Glenn Corbett), and Christine Downes (portrayed by Victoria Shaw). Shigeta's character was somewhat groundbreaking for the 1950s, an Asian detective played by an Asian actor with regular speech patterns, rather than a non-Asian made up to pass as Asian who speaks in broken English.
Paramount Pictures and James Clavell cast Shigeta in the 1960 release Walk Like A Dragon, as Cheng Lu, a young Chinese man in the American old west who resents that Chinese must be subservient to white people. When filming began, Shigeta was still starring in Holiday in Japan in Las Vegas. An arrangement was made to transport him after his last show to the Paramount studio by ambulance to make sure he arrived on time. The technical advisor to Shigeta on the film was Benson Fong, who taught Shigeta how to mount a horse Chinese style. Jack Lord has first billing in this movie, which pits Shigeta against Lord for the affections of Kim Sung, played by Nobu McCarthy. Shigeta and McCarthy would work together again in the 1965 Perry Mason episode, "The Case of the Wrongful Writ," while Shigeta and Lord would work together in the 1968 Hawaii Five-O episode Deathwatch.
The 1961 romantic comedy Cry for Happy had Shigeta co-starring with Glenn Ford, Donald O'Connor and Miyoshi Umeki in a tale about Korean War era United States Navy photographers in Japan.
In 1961, Shigeta was cast as Wang Ta, a role originated by Ed Kenney on Broadway, in the Academy Award-nominated movie version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song with Nancy Kwan and Miyoshi Umeki playing the love interests.
He was cast as World War II Japanese diplomat Hidenari Terasaki opposite Carroll Baker as Gwen Terasaki in the 1961 biographical movie Bridge to the Sun. A rarity for its era, the movie told the true story of a racially mixed marriage set against the background of the war between the United States and Japan.
Shigeta guest starred in many television shows, beginning with Alcoa Premiere in 1961, as a Korean War era Chinese Communist who tortured star Lloyd Bridges. He continued to act in television up through Avatar: The Last Airbender in 2005.
In 1965, Shigeta starred in Paradise, Hawaiian Style with Elvis Presley.
In 1965, Shigeta worked with Raymond Burr in the Perry Mason episode "The Case of the Wrongful Writ", cast as lawyer Ward Toyama who finds himself as the defendant. Shigeta worked with Raymond Burr two more times, in the 1969 Ironside episode "Love My Enemy", and the 1971 episode "No Motive for Murder" of the same series.
From 1969 to 1972, Shigeta had recurring appearances on the TV hospital drama Medical Center, in which he alternately appeared as the Resident Doctor and Doctor Osaka, for seven episodes. He played the role of Chief Resident in the series 1969 2-hour pilot U.M.C.
Tomorrow's Child from 1982, with Shigeta as a medical assistant to doctor Ed Flanders, dealt with the subject matter of a baby being brought to full term in a test tube.
He also continued starring in films. In 1976, he portrayed the famous Japanese admiral Chūichi Nagumo in Midway. In 1988, he played the ill-fated corporate executive Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi in the action adventure film Die Hard. Cage II: The Arena of Death from 1994 pits star Lou Ferrigno against Shigeta's character of underworld crime boss Tim Yum Yum. Shigeta has lent his voice to Disney's 1998 animated film Mulan.
Awards and legacy
James Shigeta shared the 1960 Golden Globe Award for Most Promising Male Newcomer with actors George Hamilton, Troy Donahue and Barry Coe.
In 2005, Shigeta received a "Visionary Award" from the Asian-American theatre organization, East West Players, at their annual anniversary gala in Los Angeles.
In 2006, Shigeta was among the actors, producers and directors interviewed in the documentary The Slanted Screen, directed by Jeff Adachi, about the representation of Asian and Asian American men in Hollywood.
Shigeta died in his sleep on July 28, 2014 at the age of 85 in Beverly Hills.
|1959||The Crimson Kimono||Det. Joe Kojaku|
|1960||Walk Like a Dragon||Cheng Lu|
|1961||Cry for Happy||Suzuki|
|1961||Bridge to the Sun||Hidenari Terasaki|
|1961||Flower Drum Song||Wang Ta|
|1966||Paradise, Hawaiian Style||Danny Kohana|
|1966||Death Walks in Laredo||Lester Koto|
|1967||The Mystery of the Chinese Junk||George Ti Ming|
|1968||Nobody's Perfect||Diver Toshi O'Hara|
|1968||Manila, Open City||Captain Murakami|
|1973||Lost Horizon||To Len|
|1976||Midway||Vice Adm. Chūichi Nagumo|
|1988||Die Hard||Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi|
|1989||Cage||Tin Lum Yin|
|1990||China Cry: A True Story||Dr. Sung|
|1994||Cage II:The Arena of Death||Tim Lum Yin|
|1995||Midnight Man||Mao Mak|
|1996||Space Marines||Ambassador Nakamura|
|2002||A Ribbon of Dreams||Jimmy Chan|
|2009||The People I've Slept With||Charles Yang||(final film role)|
|1961||Alcoa Premiere||Captain||The Fortress|
|1961||Playdate||Major Ri||The Cell 5 Experience|
|1962||Naked City||James Kam||The Contract|
|1963||Dr. Kildare||Dr. Roy Shigera||One Clear Bright Thursday Morning|
|1963||The Outer Limits'||Major Jong||Nightmare|
|1964||The Outer Limits||AIO Captain Newa||The Inheritors, Part 1|
|1964||Burke's Law||Sidney Ying||Who Killed the Paper Dragon?|
|1964||The Lieutenant||Captain Myang Lee||To Kill a Man|
|1964||A Carol for Another Christmas||The Doctor||United Nations special|
|1965||The Bing Crosby Show||Joe||That's the Way the Suki Yakies|
|1965||Perry Mason||Ward Toyama||The Case of the Wrongful Writ|
|1965||I Spy||Tommy||Three Hours on a Sunday Night|
|1965||Ben Casey||Dr. Harvey Lee||No More, Cried the Rooster-There Will Be Truth|
|1964||Ben Casey||Father Michael Hsueh||The Evidence of Things Not Seen|
|1968||It Takes a Thief||Fong Sing||When Good Friends Get Together|
|1968||Escape to Mindanao||Lt. Takahashi|
|1968||Hawaii Five-O||Joseph Matsukino||Deathwatch|
|1969||U.M.C.||Chief Resident||Pilot for 1970 Medical Center series|
|1969||The Young Lawyers||Pilot|
|1971||Ironside||Toshio Watari||No Motive for Murder|
|1969||Ironside||Il Pak Soong||Love My Enemy|
|1969||Medical Center||Resident Doctor||The Loner|
|1970||Medical Center||Resident Doctor||Runaway|
|1970||Medical Center||Dr. Osaka||The V.D. Story|
|1970||Medical Center||Dr. Osaka||Brink of Doom|
|1970||Medical Center||Dr. Osaka||Deadly Encounter|
|1972||Medical Center||Dr. Osaka||Conflict|
|1972||Medical Center||Resident Doctor||Confession|
|1974||The Questor Tapes||Dr. Chen||TV movie|
|1974||Emergency!||Mr. O'Brien||Foreign Trade|
|1975||Matt Helm||Tom McCauley|
|1975||Kung Fu||Master Kwan Li||The Garments of Rage|
|1975||Kung Fu||Col. Lin Pei||The Forbidden Kingdom|
|1976||Ellery Queen||Stephen Yang||The Adventure of the Judas Tree|
|1976||S.W.A.T.||The Chinese Connection|
|1976||The Killer Who Wouldn't Die||David Lao||TV movie|
|1976||The Streets of San Francisco||Prosecutor||The Thrill Killers, Parts 1 and 2|
|1976||Once an Eagle||Lin Tso-Han||TV mini-series|
|1976||The Moneychangers||Wizard Wong|
|1977||Little House on the Prairie||Sam Wing||To Live with Fear, Part 2|
|1977||The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries||Kapala||Wipe-Out|
|1978||Police Woman||Bernie Kim||The Human Rights of Tiki Kim|
|1978||The Rockford Files||Clement Chin||Heartaches of a Fool|
|1979||Fantasy Island||General Lin Sun||Spending Spree/The Hunted|
|1980||Enola Gay: The Men, the Mission, the Atomic Bomb||Field Marshal Abehata||TV movie|
|1982||The Greatest American Hero||Colonel Shawn Liang||The Hand-Painted Thai|
|1982||Tomorrow's Child||Donald Shibura||TV movie|
|1982||The Renegades||Jimmy Lee|
|1983||T. J. Hooker||Chow Duc Khan||Chinatown|
|1983||Masquerade||Makko||Girls for Sale|
|1984||The Love Boat||M. Yasamoto||Japan Cruise:When Worlds Collide/The Captain and the Geisha/The Lottery Winners/The Emperor's Fortune, Parts 1 and 2|
|1984||Matt Houston||Lin Ha||Blood Money|
|1985||Airwolf||Colonel Tranh Van Zung||The American Dream|
|1986||The Family Martinez||Judge Yamamoto|
|1986||Magnum, P.I.||Mr. Obotu||
|1983||Magnum P.I.||Dr. Richard Enoka||Forty Years from Sand Island|
|1987||The Hitchhiker||Nishi||Perfect Order|
|1988||Simon & Simon||Chen||Tale of the Tiger|
|1987||Simon & Simon||Musashi Sato||Opposites Attack|
|1984||Simon & Simon||Daniel Yoshiro||Revolution #9½|
|1989||Mission: Impossible||Ki||The Lions|
|1989||Dragnet||Mr. Minn||The Payback|
|1989||A Peaceable Kingdom||Dr Okawa||Snake Bite|
|1989||Jake and the Fatman||Episode: The Way You Look Tonight|
|1992||Murder, She Wrote||Luc Lee||Sugar & Spice, Malice & Vice|
|1987||Murder She Wrote||John Sukahara||The Corpse Flew First Class|
|1994||seaQuest DSV||Montegnard Confederation President Chi||Better Than Martians|
|1994||seaQuest DSV||Montegnard Confederation President Chi||
The Last Lap at Luxury
|1994||Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die||Det. Whoo||TV movie|
|1994||Babylon 5||Taro Isogi||Spider in the Web|
|1994||Renegade||Hideo Maruyama||Black Wind|
|1996||Cybill||Mr. Matsuzaki||Cybill and Maryann Go to Japan|
|1997||The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest||Inspector Mantjur||Diamonds and Jade|
|1997||The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest||Mr. Yamashiro/Japanese Prime Minister||Night of the Zinja|
|1999||Beverly Hills 90210||Ben Sosna||Nine Yolks Whipped Lightly|
|1999||Beverly Hills 90210||Ben Sosna||The Loo-Ouch|
|1999||Beverly Hills, 90210||Ben Sosna||Slipping Away|
|2004||Threat Matrix||Kang Sok-Joo||PPX|
|2005||Avatar: The Last Airbender||Old Wanderer||The Spirit World-Winter Solstice, Part 1|