Died: July 21, 2006 (at age 72)
Birthplace: Kobe, Hyōgo, Empire of Japan
Mako Iwamatsu (岩松 マコ, Iwamatsu Mako?, December 10, 1933 - July 21, 2006) was a Japanese American actor and voice artist who was nominated for numerous awards. Many of his acting roles credited him simply as Mako, where he omitted his surname. He is best known for his roles as Po-Han in The Sand Pebbles (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), Akiro the Wizard in Conan the Barbarian and Conan the Destroyer, and for his voice roles as Aku in Samurai Jack and Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender.
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 authors and illustrators Atsushi Iwamatsu and Tomoe Sasako. 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. He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as engine-room coolie 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 Sorcerer; Jackie Chan's uncle/sifu in Chan's first American movie The Big Brawl; 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 1982 thriller An Eye for an Eye; 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 in some Japanese TV dramas and films, such as Masahiro Shinoda's Owls' Castle and Takashi Miike's The Bird People in China.
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 shogun, 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 woken up at 4:30 the morning after the Tony ceremony by Orbach, who was shouting from the floor below: "Hey, Mako! What the f--- happened? I can't believe it; we lost to a f------ revival!". He also starred in the limited run of the play Shimada in 1992.
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 a South Korean lieutenant. 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 also was a guest star in the Monk episode "Mr. Monk vs. The Cobra". He guest-starred in the Walker, Texas Ranger 2000 episode "Black Dragons", and appeared in 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.
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 died in the middle of the second season, and would later have an episode dedicated to him in season two ("The tales of Ba Sing Se"). 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 in 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 are actresses) and he has three grandchildren.
Mako died in Somis, California, on July 21, 2006, aged 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 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, a lead male character was named after him (voiced by David Faustino).
He was also featured in the memoriam montage in the 79th Academy Awards.
|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||Credited as Mako|
|The Sand Pebbles||Po-han||Credited as Mako
Nominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor
|1968||The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell||Calvin Coolidge Ishimura|
|1969||The Great Bank Robbery||Secret Agent Fong|
|1970||The Hawaiians||Mun Ki|
|1974||The Island at the Top of the World||Oomiak||Credited as Mako|
|The Killer Elite||Yuen Chung|
|1980||Hito Hata: Raise the Banner||Oda|
|The Big Brawl||Herbert|
|1981||Under the Rainbow||Nakomuri|
|An Eye for an Eye||James Chan|
|The Bushido Blade||Enjiro|
|1982||Conan the Barbarian||Akiro the Wizard /
|1983||The Last Ninja||Mantaro Sakura|
|1984||Conan the Destroyer||Akiro the Wizard|
|1986||Behind Enemy Lines||Capt. Vinh|
|Armed Response||Akira Tanaka|
|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||Credited as Mako|
|1991||The Perfect Weapon||Kim|
|Sutoroberi rodo||Frank Machida|
|My Samurai||Mr. Tszing|
|1994||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||Seven Years in Tibet||Kungo Tsarong|
|1998||The Bird People in China||Shen|
|1999||Alegría||Adult Momo||Also the narrator of the story|
|Owls' Castle||Toyotomi Hideyoshi|
|2000||Rugrats in Paris: The Movie||Mr. Yamaguchi||Voice|
|2001||Pearl Harbor||Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto|
|2002||Cruel Game||Straw Hat|
|2003||Bulletproof Monk||Mr. Kojima|
|Memoirs of a Geisha||Sakamoto|
|2007||TMNT||Master Splinter||Voice; posthumous|
|Rise: Blood Hunter||Poe||(final film role)|
|1962||The Lloyd Bridges Show||Takahashi||Episode: "Yankee Stay Here"|
|Episodes: "Operation: Kowana"
|1962-1965||McHale's Navy||Capt. Uzaki
|1958-1964||77 Sunset Strip||Iko Nakayama||Episode: "Stranger from the Sea"|
|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"|
|1967||F Troop||Samurai Warrior||Episode: "From Karate with Love"|
|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"|
|1974||Mannix||Tami Okada||Episode: "Enter Tami Okada"|
|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"|
|1981||Fantasy Island||Kwong Soo Luke||Episode: "The Heroine; The Warrior"|
|1983||The Gallant Men||Frank Fakuda||Episode: "One Puka Puka"|
|Girls of the White Orchid||Mori||TV movie|
|The A-Team||Lin Duk Coo||Episode: "Recipe for Heavy Bread"|
|Magnum, P.I.||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"|
|Charmed||Sorcerer||Episode: "Love's a Witch"|
|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!"|
|2005-2006||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|