Picture of Mako Iwamatsu
December 10, 1933
Kobe, Hyōgo, Japan
|Died||July 21, 2006
Somis, California, United States
Cause of death
|Alma mater||Pasadena Community Playhouse|
|Occupation||Actor, voice actor|
Mako Iwamatsu (岩松 マコ Iwamatsu Mako?) (December 10, 1933 – July 21, 2006) was a Japanese-born American actor and voice artist who has been nominated for numerous awards. Many of his acting roles credited him simply as Mako where he omits his surname. He is known for his acting role as Po-Han in The Sand Pebbles, Akiro the Wizard in both Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer and his voice roles as Iroh from Avatar: The Last Airbender, Aku from Samurai Jack, and Splinter from TMNT.
He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7095 Hollywood Blvd.
Mako was born in Kobe, Japan, the son of noted children's book author and illustrator Taro Yashima. Shortly before the outbreak of World War II, 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 USA, 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 1959 film Never So Few. 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 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 as Po-Han 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; Yuen Chung in the 1975 film The Killer Elite directed by Sam Peckinpah and starring James Caan, Robert Duvall and the famous martial artist Takayuki Kubota; the sorcerer Nakano in Highlander III: The Final Dimension; the Wizard Akiro opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger in the two Conan movies Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer; the Japanese spy in the comedy Under the Rainbow; Yoshida-san in Rising Sun; Mr. Lee in Sidekicks; Kanemitsu in RoboCop 3 in 1993; Kungo Tsarong in Seven Years in Tibet; and Admiral Isoroku 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 also appeared to some Japanese TV dramas and films as such as Masahiro Shinoda's Owls' Castle and Takashi Miike's The Bird People in China.
He appeared on the TV show McHale's Navy several times, playing Imperial Japanese officers, soldiers and sailors. He 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. In 1974 he appeared on Ironside episode "Terror on Grant Avenue". He appeared as a Japanese chef in the 1978 Columbo episode "Murder Under Glass". He was the blind philosopher Li Sung in two episodes of the TV show The Incredible Hulk. He also appeared on an episode of Magnum P.I called "The Arrow That Is Not Aimed" in 1983. Mako also appeared in an episode of the TV show 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 played Jackie Chan's uncle/sifu in Chan's first American movie The Big Brawl. Mako voiced Commander Shima in the 2004 video game Medal of Honor: Rising Sun. He also played the role of the goblin Grubjub in the video game Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader. He voiced the narrator in the game Wrath Unleashed. He also was a guest star in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk vs. The Cobra". He also guest starred in the Walker, Texas Ranger 2000 episode "Black Dragons". He also appeared the TV show Charmed in 2003 creating magic for Chris played by Drew Fuller. 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 Aku, the main antagonist in the animated series Samurai Jack, both 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 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.
Mako was married to actress Shizuko Hoshi with whom he had two daughters (both are actresses) and three grandchildren.
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 before his death. The finished film was dedicated 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, the lead male character was named after him (voiced by David Faustino).
He was also featured in the memoriam montage in the 79th Academy Awards.
|1962||The Lloyd Bridges Show||Takahashi||Episode: "Yankee Stay Here"|
|Episodes: "Operation: Kowana"
|1962–1965||McHale's Navy||Capt. Uzaki
|1965||I Dream of Jeannie||Kato||Episode: "Jeannie and the Marriage Caper"|
|1966||The Green Hornet||Low Sing||Episode: "The Praying Mantis"|
|1967||The Time Tunnel||Lt. Nakamura||Episode: "Kill Two by Two"|
|1968||The Big Valley||Wong Lo||Episode: "Rimfire"|
|1970||The Challenge||Yuro||TV movie|
|1972||The Streets of San Francisco||Kenji||Episode: "Pilot"|
|1973||Kung Fu||Wong Ti Lu||Episode: "The Tide"|
|Love, American Style||Jack||Episode: "Love and the Fortunate Cookie"|
|1974–1980||M*A*S*H||Dr. Lin Tam
Lt. Hung Lee Park
|Episodes: "Rainbow Bridge"
"Hawkeye Get Your Gun"
"Guerilla My Dreams"
"The Best of Enemies"
|1974||Ironside||Phil||Episode: "Terror on Grant Avenue"|
|1976||Hawaii Five-O||Kazuo Tahashi||Episode: "Legacy of Terror"|
|1977||Quincy, M.E.||Mr. Yamaguchi||Episode: "Touch of Death"|
|1978||Columbo||Kanji Ousu||Episode: "Murder Under Glass"|
|1978–1979||The Incredible Hulk||Li Sung||Episodes: "Another Path"
|1979||Wonder Woman||Mr. Brown||Episode: "Going, Going, Gone"|
|1983||The Gallant Men||Frank Fakuda||Episode: "One Puka Puka"|
|77 Sunset Strip||Iko Nakayama||Episode: "Stranger from the Sea"|
|The A-Team||Lin Duk Coo||Episode: "Recipe for Heavy Bread"|
|Magnum PI||Tozan||Episode: "The Arrow that is not Aimed"|
|1984||Hawaiian Heat||Maj. Taro Oshira|
|1985||Kung Fu: The Movie||The Manchu||TV movie|
|1988||The Equalizer||Jimmy Thanarat||Episode: "Riding the Elephant"|
|1991||Lovejoy||Toshiro Tanaka||Episodes: "Riding in Rollers (1 of 2)"
"The Black Virgin of Vladimir (2 of 2)"
|1994||Frasier||Sam Tanaka||Episode: "Author, Author"|
|1994–1996||Kung Fu: The Legend Continues||Li Sung||Episodes: "Tournament"
"Veil of Tears"
|1995||Platypus Man||Mr. Loo||Episode: "Dying to Live"|
|1996–2003||Dexter's Laboratory||Narrator on end credits||Voice|
|1997–2000||Walker, Texas Ranger||Dr. Henry Lee
|Episodes: "Heart of the Dragon"
|1999||Martial Law||Master Reng||Episodes: "Red Storm"
|7th Heaven||Henry Muranaka||Episode: "Dirty Laundry"|
|2000||The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne||Kajimori||Episode: "The Inquisitor"|
|2001||Diagnosis Murder||Lee Moy||Episode: "The Red's Shoes"|
|2003||Lost at Home||Mr. Li||Episode: "Good Will Hunting"|
|Black Sash||Master Li|
|What's New, Scooby-Doo?||The Ancient One||Voice; Episode: "Big Appetite in Little Tokyo"|
|2003–2005||Duck Dodgers||Happy Cat
|Voice; Episodes: "Hooray for Hollywood Planet"
"Queen Is Wild/The Back to the Academy"
"Surf the Stars/Samurai Quack"
"Bonafide Hero: Captain Duck Dodgers"
|2004||The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy||Narrator||Voice; Episode: "Test of Time/A Kick in the Asgard"|
|2005||Monk||Master Zi||Episode: "Mr. Monk vs. the Cobra"|
|The West Wing||Dr. Yosh Takahashi||Episode: "A Good Day"|
|Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!||Master Offay||Voice; Episode: "Monster Battle Club Now!"|
|2005–2007||Avatar: The Last Airbender||Uncle Iroh
|Voice; Main Role
Final Role (replaced by Greg Baldwin)
|2003||Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader||Grumdjum||Voice|
|True Crime: Streets of LA||General Kim||Voice|
|Medal of Honor: Rising Sun||Masataka Shima||Voice|
|Secret Weapons Over Normandy||Imperial Japanese Voices #1||Voice|
|2004||Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku||Aku||Voice|
- "Mako, 72; Actor Opened Door for Asian Americans". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-05-26.
- Pulvers, Roger (September 18, 2011), "Mako: the Japanese-American actor who fought racist stereotypes", The Japan Times
- TMNT at Superhero Hype
- Ain't it Cool interview with director Kevin Munroe
- On the Set of TMNT!