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Mako (actor)

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岩松 信
Mako in 1986
Makoto Iwamatsu

(1933-12-10)December 10, 1933
DiedJuly 21, 2006(2006-07-21) (aged 72)
Other namesMako Iwamatsu
Alma materPratt Institute School of Architecture
Pasadena Playhouse
Years active1959–2006
SpouseShizuko Hoshi
Parent(s)Taro Yashima (father)
Mitsu Yashima (mother)
Japanese name
Kanji岩松 信
Hiraganaいわまつ まこと
Katakanaイワマツ マコト

Makoto Iwamatsu (岩松 信, Iwamatsu Makoto, December 10, 1933 – July 21, 2006) was a Japanese-American actor, credited mononymously in almost all of his acting roles as simply Mako (マコ). His career in film, on television, and on stage spanned 5 decades and 165 productions. He was an Academy Award, Golden Globe Award and Tony Award nominee.

Born and raised in Kobe, Mako moved to the United States after the Second World War, where his dissident parents had moved to escape political persecution. After serving with the United States Army during the Korean War, he trained in acting at the Pasadena Playhouse and later co-founded the East West Players.[1] His role as Po-Han (his second credited role on film) in the 1966 film The Sand Pebbles saw him nominated for the Academy Award[2] and the Golden Globe Award[3] for Best Supporting Actor.

Other various roles included Kichijiro in the 1971 film adaptation of Silence, Oomiak "The Fearless One" in The Island at the Top of the World (1974),[4] Akiro the Wizard in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984), and Kungo Tsarong in Seven Years in Tibet (1997). 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. Later in his career, he became well known for his voice acting roles, including Mr. Yamaguchi in Rugrats in Paris: The Movie, Aku in the first four seasons of Samurai Jack (2001–04), and Iroh in the first two seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender (200506).

He died on July 21, 2006, at the age of 72 from esophageal cancer.[5][6]

Early life and education[edit]

Mako was born Makoto Iwamatsu in Kobe, Japan,[7] the son of children's authors and illustrators Tomoe Sasako and Atsushi Iwamatsu, better known by their pen names Mitsu and Taro Yashima. In 1939, his parents, who were political dissidents, moved to the United States, leaving Mako in the care of his grandmother.[8][9] Because his parents lived on the East Coast, they were not interned during the Second World War; instead they opted to work for the U.S. Office of War Information and were later granted residency.[7] His parents were able to arrange for him to join them in 1949, when he was fifteen years old.[10]

Iwamatsu's father owned an art studio in New York City, and as a teenager he became acquainted with painter Hiroshi Honda. Though he faced racial discrimination, Iwamatsu bonded with his high school peers over baseball, and was even scouted by the Cleveland Indians.[10]

Though he had an interest in dramatics, Iwamatsu did not believe an artistic career was financially viable, and enrolled in the Pratt Institute School of Architecture while working in his father's print shop.[10][11][12]

He later enlisted in the United States Army in November 1953 and served until October 1955.[13] He was in Korea and Japan with the Special Services division performing in plays for his fellow soldiers.[5][7][8] It was during his military service that Mako discovered his theatrical talent; he then trained at the Pasadena Playhouse.[8] He would adopt the mononym Mako, as he found most people had difficulty pronouncing his full name. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1956.[7]



Mako's first film role was in Never So Few (1959). He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as engine-room worker Po-Han in the film The Sand Pebbles (1966).[8] Other roles include the Chinese contract laborer Mun Ki in the epic movie The Hawaiians (1970) starring Charlton Heston and Tina Chen; Oomiak, the Inuit 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 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).

He also appeared in some Japanese television dramas and films, such as Masahiro Shinoda's Owls' Castle and Takashi Miike's The Bird People in China.

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. He voiced Master Splinter in the film TMNT, released posthumously in 2007 as his final credited role.


In 1965, frustrated by the limited roles available to Asian-American actors, Mako and six others formed the East West Players theater company, first performing out of a church basement. During the company's 1981 season, to coincide with the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians' hearings on redress, Mako exclusively produced plays about the Japanese American incarceration.[14] 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.[15] 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 in 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!".[16] Mako reprised the role and directed the musical's production with the East West Players,[17] and further reprised the role in a production at the San Jose Civic Light Opera in 1991.[18] 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, a North Korean soldier, a South Korean medical doctor and a South Korean lieutenant. He appeared in an episode of the series The Time Tunnel as Lt. Nakamura in 1967. He appeared in an episode of the series Kung Fu as Wong Ti Lu in 1972. In 1974, he appeared in the 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 Incredible Hulk. He also appeared on an episode of Magnum, P.I. entitled "The Arrow That Is Not Aimed" (1983). Mako also appeared in an episode of 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 episodes "Heart of the Dragon" (1997) and "Black Dragons" (2000), and appeared on Charmed in 2003, creating magic for Chris (played by Drew Fuller).

He was the voice of Aku, the main antagonist in the animated series Samurai Jack for the first four seasons produced from 2001 to 2004, and again in the series finale which used his original audio. He also voiced Achoo (a parody of Aku) and the annoying alarm clock Happy Cat in a Samurai Jack-parodying episode of Duck Dodgers entitled "Samurai Quack". He provided the introductory voice for the ending theme of Dexter's Laboratory and portrayed the popular character Iroh in the first two seasons of Avatar: The Last Airbender from 2005 to 2006. 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. He was also featured in Season 3 Episode 13 of The Facts of Life, entitled "The Americanization of Miko".

Video games[edit]

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.

Personal life[edit]

Mako was married to actress Shizuko Hoshi, with whom he had two daughters (both of whom are actresses) and three grandchildren.[5]


Mako died in Somis, California, on July 21, 2006, at the age of 72, from esophageal cancer.[5] One day before his death, Mako had been confirmed to star in the film TMNT as the voice of Splinter.[19] Kevin Munroe, director of the film, confirmed that Mako had completed his recording.[20][21] The producers dedicated the finished film to Mako.

In the Avatar: The Last Airbender episode "The Tales of Ba Sing Se", the segment titled "The Tale of Iroh" was created "in honor of Mako", who voice acted as Iroh for the first two seasons: Book One: Water and Book Two: Earth. In the sequel series The Legend of Korra, a lead male character, Mako, was named after him (voiced by David Faustino).[22]

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.



Year Title Role Notes
1959 Never So Few Soldier In The Hospital Uncredited
1965 McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force Japanese Submarine Captain Uncredited
1966 The Ugly Dachshund Kenji
The Sand Pebbles Po-Han Nominated – Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor[23]
Nominated – Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor — Motion Picture[24]
1968 The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell Calvin Coolidge Ishimura
1969 The Great Bank Robbery Secret Agent Fong
1970 The Hawaiians Mun Ki
Fools Psychiatrist
1971 Silence Kichijiro
1972 Yokohama Mama Rooster Voice, Short
1974 The Island at the Top of the World Oomiak
1975 Prisoners Sergeant Nguyen
The Killer Elite Yuen Chung
1980 The Big Brawl Herbert
Hito Hata: Raise the Banner Oda
1981 Under the Rainbow Nakomuri
An Eye for an Eye James Chan
The Bushido Blade Enjiro
1982 Conan the Barbarian Akiro The Wizard
1983 Testament Mike
The Last Ninja Aitaro Sakura
1984 Conan the Destroyer Akiro The Wizard
1986 Behind Enemy Lines Captain Vinh
Armed Response Akira Tanaka
1988 Silent Assassins Oyama
Tucker: The Man and His Dream Jimmy
The Wash Nobu Matsumoto
1989 An Unremarkable Life Max Chin
1990 Pu guang ren wu Trang
Taking Care of Business Mr. Sakamoto
Pacific Heights Toshio Watanabe
1991 The Perfect Weapon Kim
Sutoroberi rodo Frank Machida
1992 My Samurai Mr. Tszing
Sidekicks Mr. Lee
1993 RoboCop 3 Mr. Kanemitsu
Rising Sun Mr. Yoshida
1994 Cultivating Charlie Katsu
Red Sun Rising Buntoro Iga
A Dangerous Place Sensei
Highlander III: The Sorcerer Nakano
1995 Midnight Man Buun Som
Crying Freeman Shudo Shimazaki
1996 Balance of Power Todo Matsumoto
Sworn to Justice Mr. Young
1997 Sacred Trust Mr. Jordan
Seven Years in Tibet Kungo Tsarong
1998 The Bird People in China Shen
1999 Alegría Adult Momo
Kyohansha Police
Owls' Castle Toyotomi Hideyoshi
2000 Talk to Taka Mr. Hiro Short
Rugrats in Paris: The Movie Mr. Yamaguchi Voice
2001 Pearl Harbor Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
2002 Cruel Game Straw Hat
2003 Bulletproof Monk Mr. Kojima
Bus Story Father Christmas Short
2005 Cages Tan
Memoirs of a Geisha Sakamoto
2007 TMNT Master Splinter Voice; posthumous release; Dedicated in Memory
Rise: Blood Hunter Poe Posthumous release (final film role)


Year Title Role Notes
1962 The Lloyd Bridges Show Takahashi Episode: "Yankee Stay Here"
1962–1963 Ensign O'Toole Various Roles 3 episodes
1962–1965 McHale's Navy Various Roles 9 episodes
1963 The Gallant Men Frank Fakuda Episode: "One Puka Puka"
77 Sunset Strip Iko Nakayama Episode: "Stranger from the Sea"
1964 Arrest and Trial Kyoto Episode: "Signals of an Ancient Flame"
1964–1965 Broadside Japanese Commander / Captain Osato 2 episodes
Burke's Law Pete / 'Happy' Tuava 2 episodes
1965 I Dream of Jeannie Kato Episode: "Jeannie and the Marriage Caper"
Gidget Casey Episode: "The War Between Men, Women and Gidget"
The Wackiest Ship in the Army T. Vushikori / Captain Kulijame 2 episodes
1965–1966 I Spy Jimmy / Baby Face 3 episodes
1966 The Green Hornet Low Sing Episode: "The Praying Mantis"
1966–1968 The F.B.I. Angry Youth / Yoshimura 2 episodes
1967 The Time Tunnel Lieutenant Nakamura Episode: "Kill Two by Two"
F Troop Samurai Warrior Episode: "From Karate with Love"
Vacation Playhouse Simba Episode: "Alfred of the Amazon"
1968 The Big Valley Wong Lo Episode: "Rimfire"
1970 The Challenge Yuro Television film
1971 If Tomorrow Comes Tadashi Television film
1972 The Streets of San Francisco Kenji Episode: "Pilot"
Room 222 Mr. Shigematsu Episode: "Just Call Me Mr. Shigematsu"
Anna and the King Sanum Episode: "The King and the Egg"
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 Various Roles 4 episodes
1974 Ironside Phil Episode: "Terror on Grant Avenue"
Mannix Tami Okada Episode: "Enter Tami Okada"
Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders Tao Gan Television film
1976 Hawaii Five-O Kazuo Tahashi Episode: "Legacy of Terror"
Farewell to Manzanar Fukimoto Television film
Visions Masu Murakami Episode: "Gold Watch"
1977–1982 Quincy, M.E. Mr. Yamaguchi / John Moroshima Episode: "Touch of Death"
1978 Columbo Kanji Ousu Episode: "Murder Under Glass"
1978–1979 The Incredible Hulk Li Sung 2 episodes
1979 Supertrain Kirby Episode: "Pirouette"
Wonder Woman Mr. Brown Episode: "Going, Going, Gone"
Salvage 1 Toshiro Episode: "Shangri-la Lil"
When Hell Was in Session Major Bai Television film
A Man Called Sloane Tanaka Episode: "Samurai"
1981 Fantasy Island Kwong Soo Luke Episode: "The Heroine; The Warrior"
1982 Voyagers! Slave Auctioneer Episode: "The Travels Of Marco...And Friends"
Bring 'Em Back Alive Tanako Episode: "The Pied Piper"
The Facts of Life Mr. Wakamatsu Episode: "The Americanization of Miko"
Romance Theatre Shibata 5 episodes
1983 The Gallant Men Frank Fakuda Episode: "One Puka Puka"
The Last Ninja Mantaro Sakura Pilot
The A-Team Lin Duk Coo Episode: "Recipe for Heavy Bread"
Magnum, P.I. Tozan Episode: "The Arrow That Is Not Aimed"
Greatest American Hero Master of Flowers Episode: "Thirty Seconds Over Little Tokyo"
Faerie Tale Theatre Gardener / Minister Episode: "The Nightingale"
Girls of the White Orchid Mori Television film
1984 Hawaiian Heat Major Taro Oshira 11 episodes
1986 Kung Fu: The Movie The Manchu Television film
1987 Ohara Toshi Episode: "Toshi"
Spenser: For Hire Tommy Nguyen Episode: "My Brother's Keeper"
Tour of Duty Tran Episode: "Sitting Ducks"
1988 The Equalizer Jimmy Thanarat Episode: "Riding the Elephant"
1990 Murder in Paradise Captain Kilalo Television film
Paradise Kao Episode: "Dangerous Cargo"
The Paradise Club Mr. Yamamoto Episode: "The Rotherhithe Project"
Hiroshima: Out of the Ashes Sergeant Moritaki Television film
1991 Lovejoy Toshiro Tanaka 2 episodes
1992 Nightingale Narrator Voice, television film
1993 Shaky Ground Nakamura Episode: "Stayin' Alive"
1994 Frasier Sam Tanaka Episode: "Author, Author"
1994–1996 Kung Fu: The Legend Continues Li Sung 2 episodes
1995 Platypus Man Mr. Loo Episode: "Dying to Live"
1996–2003 Dexter's Laboratory Narrator Voice, 13 episodes
1997–2000 Walker, Texas Ranger Dr. Henry Lee / Edward Song 2 episodes
1997 Riot Mr. Lee Television film; segment: "Gold Mountain"
1998 JAG Ichiro Higashimori -
1999 Martial Law Master Reng 2 episodes
1999 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"
2001–2004 Samurai Jack Aku Voice, 24 episodes
2003 Lost at Home Mr. Li Episode: "Good Will Hunting"
Black Sash Master Li 6 episodes
What's New, Scooby-Doo? The Ancient One Voice, episode: "Big Appetite in Little Tokyo"
Charmed Sorcerer Episode: "Love's a Witch"
2003–2005 Duck Dodgers Happy Cat / Achoo (parody of Aku) Voice, 4 episodes
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!"
Sokoku Leo Television film
2005–2006 Avatar: The Last Airbender Uncle Iroh, Red Dragon, additional voices Voice, 30 episodes

Video games[edit]

Year Title Voice role
2003 Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader Grumdjum
True Crime: Streets of LA General Han Yu Kim[25]
Medal of Honor: Rising Sun Commander Masataka Shima
Secret Weapons Over Normandy Imperial Japanese Voices #1
2004 Samurai Jack: The Shadow of Aku Aku
Wrath Unleashed Narrator[26]


  1. ^ Team, EWP Web. "About". East West Players. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  2. ^ "Browser Unsupported - Academy Awards Search | Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences". awardsdatabase.oscars.org. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  3. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1967". www.goldenglobes.com. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  4. ^ "The Island at the Top of the World" Wikipage
  5. ^ a b c d Fox, Margalit (July 25, 2006). "Mako, 72, Actor Who Extended Asian-American Roles, Dies". The New York Times. Archived from the original on June 13, 2020. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  6. ^ "MAKO 1933–(Mako Iwamatsu, Jimmy Sakuyama)". Encyclopedia.com. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  7. ^ a b c d Mako, 72; Actor Opened Door for Asian Americans Los Angeles Times via Internet Archive. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  8. ^ a b c d Mako: the Japanese-American actor who fought racist stereotypes The Japan Times via Internet Archive. Retrieved December 1, 2021.
  9. ^ Judy Stone (March 18, 2007). "An unlikely heroine of World War II". SFGate. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
  10. ^ a b c 宇佐美, 承 (November 30, 1981). さよなら日本 絵本作家八島太郎と光子の亡命 (in Japanese). 晶文社. ISBN 978-4794959379.
  11. ^ https://encyclopedia.densho.org/sources/en-ddr-densho-266-61-17-1/
  12. ^ 野本一, 平 (March 15, 2008). 八島太郎 日米のはざまに生きた画家 (in Japanese). 創風社. ISBN 978-4883521463.
  13. ^ "Index Record for Makoto Iwamatsu (1933) Veterans Affairs Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem Death File", Fold3 by Ancestry.com website. Retrieved August 10, 2022. Enlistment Date is listed as "10 Dec 1953" and Release Date is listed as "20 Oct 1955".
  14. ^ Niiya, Brian. "Mako". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 29, 2014.
  15. ^ Kerr, Walter (January 18, 1976). "'Pacific Overtures' Is Neither East Nor West". The New York Times.
  16. ^ "Three actors recall their roles in the original Broadway production". The Sondheim Review. 4 (4). Spring 1998. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  17. ^ Stevens, Rob. "Pacific Overtures reviewed by Rob Stevens". Haineshisway.com. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  18. ^ Chang, Lia (April 12, 2018). "Lucille Lortel Nominee Thom Sesma Talks Asian American Representation in the Performing Arts". Backstage Pass with Lia Chang. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  19. ^ "TMNT Bits and Posters!". SuperHeroHype. July 20, 2006. Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  20. ^ "Quint interviews the CGI TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES movie director, Kevin Munroe!!!". Ain't It Cool. Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  21. ^ "On the Set of TMNT!". MovieWeb. January 24, 2007. Archived from the original on February 6, 2007. Retrieved August 11, 2018.
  22. ^ "The Legend of Korra". IMDB. Amazon. Retrieved July 23, 2017.
  23. ^ "Browser Unsupported - Academy Awards Search | Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences". awardsdatabase.oscars.org. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  24. ^ "Winners & Nominees 1967". www.goldenglobes.com. Retrieved March 26, 2020.
  25. ^ "Mako Iwamatsu (visual voices guide)". Behind The Voice Actors. Retrieved April 28, 2021. A green check mark indicates that a role has been confirmed using a screenshot (or collage of screenshots) of a title's list of voice actors and their respective characters found in its opening and/or closing credits and/or other reliable sources of information.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)
  26. ^ "Wrath Unleashed (2004 Video Game)". Behind The Voice Actors. Retrieved August 15, 2021. A green check mark indicates that a role has been confirmed using a screenshot (or collage of screenshots) of a title's list of voice actors and their respective characters found in its opening and/or closing credits and/or other reliable sources of information.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: postscript (link)

External links[edit]