|Intro||Japanese American actor|
|Known for||The Sand Pebbles, Samurai Jack|
|A.K.A.||Mako Iwamatsu, Makoto Iwamatsu, Iwamatsu, Iwamatsu Makoto|
|Was||Actor Stage actor Film actor Television actor Voice actor|
|From||Japan United States of America|
|Type||Film, TV, Stage & Radio|
|Birth||10 December 1933, Kōbe, Japan|
|Death||21 July 2006, Somis, USA (aged 72 years)|
Makoto Iwamatsu (岩松 信, Iwamatsu Makoto, December 10, 1933 – July 21, 2006) was a Japanese–American actor and voice actor, best known for his roles as Po-Han in The Sand Pebbles (1966) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), Oomiak "The Fearless One" in The Island at the Top of the World (1974), Akiro the Wizard in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984) and Kungo Tsarong in Seven Years in Tibet (1997). Almost all of his acting roles credited him as Mako. He was part of the original cast of Stephen Sondheim's 1976 Broadway musical Pacific Overtures, which earned him a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. He was also one of the founding members of East West Players.
Later in his career, he became well known for his voice-over roles like Aku in Samurai Jack (2001–2004) and Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–2006). He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7095 Hollywood Blvd.
Mako was born Makoto Iwamatsu in Kobe, Japan, the son of noted children's book authors and illustrators Tomoe Sasako and Atsushi Iwamatsu. In 1939 his parents, who were political dissidents, moved to the United States, leaving Mako in the care of his grandmother. After the war, his parents were able to arrange for him to join them in 1949. He enlisted in the military in the 1950s and became a naturalized American citizen in 1956. When Mako first joined his parents in the United States, he studied architecture. During his military service, he discovered his theatrical talent and trained at the Pasadena Community Playhouse.
Mako's first film role was in the film Never So Few (1959). He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as engine-room coolie Po-Han in the film The Sand Pebbles (1966). Other roles include the Chinese contract laborer Mun Ki in the epic movie The Hawaiians (1970) starring Charlton Heston and Tina Chen; Oomiak, the Eskimo guide, in Disney's The Island at the Top of the World (1974); Yuen Chung in the film The Killer Elite (1975) directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring James Caan, Robert Duvall, and the famous martial artist Takayuki Kubota; the sorcerer Nakano in Highlander III: The Sorcerer; Jackie Chan's uncle/sifu in Chan's first American movie The Big Brawl (1980); the wizard Akiro opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the two Conan movies Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer; the confidant to Chuck Norris' rogue cop in the thriller An Eye for an Eye (1982); the Japanese spy in the comedy Under the Rainbow. In 1990, he had a minor role in the psychological thriller Pacific Heights along with Matthew Modine, Melanie Griffith and Michael Keaton; Yoshida-san in Rising Sun; Mr. Lee in Sidekicks; Kanemitsu in RoboCop 3 (1993); and Kungo Tsarong in Seven Years in Tibet (1997).
Mako was cast as the historic Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in the epic drama Pearl Harbor (2001). He also had a role in Bulletproof Monk (2003). In 2005, Mako had a cameo role in Memoirs of a Geisha. Mako's last leading role was in the film Cages (2005), written and directed by Graham Streeter.
Mako has a motion picture star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7095 Hollywood Blvd. He was among the actors, producers and directors interviewed in the 2006 documentary The Slanted Screen, directed by Jeff Adachi, about the representation of Asian and Asian American men in Hollywood.
In 1965, frustrated by the limited roles available to himself and other Asian American actors, Mako and six 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 also nurtured many Asian American playwrights. During the company's 1981 season, to coincide with the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians' hearings on redress, Mako exclusively showed plays about the Japanese American incarceration. He remained artistic director of the company until 1989.
Mako's Broadway career included creating the roles of the Reciter, the shōgun, and the Chicago-based inventor of the rickshaw, in the original 1976 production of Stephen Sondheim's Broadway musical Pacific Overtures, for which he was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Leading Actor in a Musical. Mako's landlord at the time, Jerry Orbach, was also nominated for his role in Chicago; both lost, however, to George Rose from the revival of My Fair Lady. Mako recalled being awoken at 4:30 the morning after the Tony ceremony by Orbach, who was shouting from the floor below: "Hey, Mako! What the fuck happened? I can't believe it; we lost to a fucking revival!". Mako reprised the role and directed the musical's production with the East West Players, and further reprised the role in a production at the San Jose Civic Light Opera in 1991. He also starred in the limited run of the play Shimada in 1992.
Mako appeared on the television series McHale's Navy several times, playing Imperial Japanese officers, soldiers and sailors. In 1965, he appeared on “Gidget” as a member of a rival surf group. He later appeared on the television series M*A*S*H, playing multiple roles such as a Chinese doctor, North Korean soldier, a South Korean Major medical doctor and a South Korean Lieutenant. He appeared in an episode of the series The Time Tunnel called "Kill Two by Two" as Lt. Nakamura in 1967. He appeared in an episode of the series Kung Fu as Wong Ti Lu in 1972 ("The Tide"). In 1974, he appeared on Ironside episode "Terror on Grant Avenue". He appeared as a Japanese chef in the Columbo episode "Murder Under Glass" (1978). He was the blind philosopher Li Sung in two episodes of the television series The Incredible Hulk. He also appeared on an episode of Magnum, P.I. called "The Arrow That Is Not Aimed" (1983). Mako also appeared in an episode of the television series F Troop. He appeared as Lo Sing, fighting Bruce Lee's Kato character in The Green Hornet episode "The Preying Mantis". He played the character Lin Duk Coo in an episode of The A-Team. He guest-starred in an episode of season one of Frasier as well as in an episode of Tour of Duty as a Vietnamese scout. He also was a guest star in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk vs. The Cobra". He guest-starred in the Walker, Texas Ranger episode "Black Dragons" (2000), and appeared on the television series Charmed in 2003, creating magic for Chris (played by Drew Fuller). His last "made-for-TV" movie appears to be Rise: Blood Hunter (2007).
He was the voice of Aku, the main antagonist in the animated series Samurai Jack for the four original seasons produced, and again in the series finale which used his original audio. He also voiced Achoo (a parody of Aku) and the annoying alarm clock known as Happy Cat in Duck Dodgers, the introductory voice for the ending theme of Dexter's Laboratory and 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 West Wing episode "A Good Day" as an economics professor and former rival of President Bartlet.
Mako made his video game debut with the role of the goblin Grubjub in Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader (2003). In the same year, he also voiced General Han Yu Kim in True Crime: Streets of LA, Masataka Shima in Medal of Honor: Rising Sun, and various voices in Secret Weapons Over Normandy. In 2004, Mako voiced the narrator in the game Wrath Unleashed, and Aku in Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku.
Mako was married to actress Shizuko Hoshi, with whom he had two daughters (Mimosa and Sala—both of whom are actresses) and two grandchildren.
Mako died in Somis, California, on July 21, 2006, at age 72, from esophageal cancer. One day before his death, Mako had been confirmed to star in the film TMNT as the voice of Splinter. Kevin Munroe, director of the film, confirmed that Mako had completed his recording. The producers dedicated the finished film to Mako.
During the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Tales of Ba Sing Se", the segment titled "The Tale of Iroh" features a dedication to Mako, the voice actor for Iroh for seasons one and two. In the sequel series The Legend of Korra, a lead male character was named after him (voiced by David Faustino).
After Mako's death, some of his roles, particularly Aku from Samurai Jack and Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, were taken over by American voice actor Greg Baldwin.