James Shigeta

James Shigeta

Born: June 17, 1929
Died: July 28, 2014 (at age 85)
Birthplace: Honolulu, Oahu, Territory of Hawaii

James S. 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 or third-generation American of Japanese ancestry. He was noted for his roles in Flower Drum Song (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 role was in the film The Crimson Kimono.

Before his Hollywood career he found success as a singer and performer abroad, especially in Japan and Australia.


Early life

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.


Singing career

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. He had suffered a stroke two years earlier.


Year Title Role Notes
2009 The People I've Slept With Charles Yang
2002 A Ribbon of Dreams Jimmy Chan
2000 Brother Sugimoto
1998 Mulan General Li Voice Role
1997 Drive Mr. Lau
1996 Space Marines Ambassador Nakamura
1995 Midnight Man Mao Mak
1994 Cage II:The Arena of Death Tim Lum Yin
1990 China Cry: A True Story Dr. Sung
1989 Cage Tin Lum Yin
1988 Die Hard Joseph Yoshinobu Takagi
1976 Midway Vice Adm. Chūichi Nagumo
1975 The Yakuza Goro
1973 Lost Horizon To Len
1968 Nobody's Perfect Diver Toshi O'Hara
1968 Manila, Open City
1967 The Mystery of the Chinese Junk George Ti Ming
1966 Paradise, Hawaiian Style Danny Kohana
1966 Death Walks in Laredo Lester Koto
1961 Flower Drum Song Wang Ta
1961 Bridge to the Sun Hidenari Terasaki
1961 Cry for Happy Suzuki
1960 Walk Like a Dragon Cheng Lu
1959 The Crimson Kimono Det. Joe Kojaku


Year Title Role Notes
2005 Avatar: The Last Airbender Old Wanderer The Spirit World-Winter Solstice, Part 1
2004 Threat Matrix Kang Sok-Joo PPX
1999 Beverly Hills, 90210 Ben Sosna Slipping Away
1999 Beverly Hills 90210 Ben Sosna The Loo-Ouch
1999 Beverly Hills 90210 Ben Sosna Nine Yolks Whipped Lightly
1997 The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest Mr. Yamashiro/Japanese Prime Minister Night of the Zinja
1997 The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest Inspector Mantjur Diamonds and Jade
1996 Cybill Mr. Matsuzaki Cybill and Maryann Go to Japan
1994 Renegade Hideo Maruyama Black Wind
1993 Renegade Mr. Ota Samurai
1994 Babylon 5 Taro Isogi Spider in the Web
1994 Hart to Hart: Old Friends Never Die Det. Whoo TV movie
1994 seaQuest DSV Montegnard Confederation President Chi
The Last Lap at Luxury
1994 seaQuest DSV Montegnard Confederation President Chi Better Than Martians
1992 Murder, She Wrote Luc Lee Sugar & Spice, Malice & Vice
1987 Murder She Wrote John Sukahara The Corpse Flew First Class
1989 Jake and the Fatman Episode: The Way You Look Tonight
1989 A Peaceable Kingdom Dr Okawa Snake Bite
1989 Dragnet Mr. Minn The Payback
1989 Mission: Impossible Ki The Lions
1988 Simon & Simon Chen Tale of the Tiger
1987 Simon & Simon Musashi Sato Opposites Attack
1984 Simon & Simon Daniel Yoshiro Revolution #9½
1987 The Hitchhiker Nishi Perfect Order
1986 Magnum, P.I. Mr. Obotu
Paper War
1983 Magnum P.I. Dr. Richard Enoka Forty Years from Sand Island
1986 The Family Martinez Judge Yamamoto
1985 Airwolf Colonel Tranh Van Zung The American Dream
1984 Matt Houston Lin Ha Blood Money
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
1983 Masquerade Makko Girls for Sale
1983 T. J. Hooker Chow Duc Khan Chinatown
1982 The Renegades Jimmy Lee
1982 Strike Force Chinatown
1985 Tomorrow's Child Donald Shibura TV movie
1982 The Greatest American Hero Colonel Shawn Liang The Hand-Painted Thai
1980 Enola Gay: The Men, the Mission, the Atomic Bomb Field Marshal Abehata TV movie
1979 Samurai Takeo Chisato
1979 Fantasy Island General Lin Sun Spending Spree/The Hunted
1978 The Rockford Files Clement Chin Heartaches of a Fool
1978 Police Woman Bernie Kim The Human Rights of Tiki Kim
1977 The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries Kapala Wipe-Out
1977 Little House on the Prairie Sam Wing To Live with Fear, Part 2
1976 The Moneychangers Wizard Wong
1976 Once an Eagle Lin Tso-Han TV mini-series
1976 The Streets of San Francisco Prosecutor The Thrill Killers, Parts 1 and 2
1976 The Killer Who Wouldn't Die David Lao TV movie
1976 S.W.A.T. The Chinese Connection
1976 Ellery Queen Stephen Yang The Adventure of the Judas Tree
1975 Kung Fu Master Kwan Li The Garments of Rage
1975 Kung Fu Col. Lin Pei The Forbidden Kingdom
1975 Matt Helm Tom McCauley
1975 Khan! Triad
1974 Emergency! Mr. O'Brien Foreign Trade
1974 The Questor Tapes Dr. Chen TV movie
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 Resident Doctor Confession
1972 Medical Center Dr. Osaka Conflict
1969 Ironside Il Pak Soong Love My Enemy
1971 Ironside Toshio Watari No Motive for Murder
1970 Mission: Impossible Shiki Butterfly
1969 The Young Lawyers Pilot
1969 U.M.C. Chief Resident Pilot for 1970 Medical Center series
1968 Hawaii Five-O Joseph Matsukino Deathwatch
1968 Escape to Mindanao Lt. Takahashi
1968 It Takes a Thief Fong Sing When Good Friends Get Together
1964 Ben Casey Father Michael Hsueh The Evidence of Things Not Seen
1965 Ben Casey Dr. Harvey Lee No More, Cried the Rooster-There Will Be Truth
1965 I Spy Tommy Three Hours on a Sunday Night
1965 Perry Mason Ward Toyama The Case of the Wrongful Writ
1965 The Bing Crosby Show Joe That's the Way the Suki Yakies
1964 The Outer Limits AIO Captain Newa The Inheritors, Part 1
1963 The Outer Limits' Major Jong Nightmare
1964 A Carol for Another Christmas The Doctor United Nations special
1964 The Lieutenant Captain Myang Lee To Kill a Man
1964 Burke's Law Sidney Ying Who Killed the Paper Dragon?
1963 Dr. Kildare Dr. Roy Shigera One Clear Bright Thursday Morning
1962 Naked City James Kam The Contract
1961 Playdate Major Ri The Cell 5 Experience
1961 Alcoa Premiere Captain The Fortress

[ Source: Wikipedia ]

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