We've been emotionally taken aback by the passing of our beloved Mako. He was here on Maui filming "The Hawaiians" where his role solidified our love and appreciation for his craft. He was nominated for an Academy Award and a Golden Globe just four years earlier for "The Sand Pebbles" which made us all proud even though he wasn't even from Maui. His presence was always felt in films and television. We've been holding back on the passing of Mako because both of us were so sorry to hear of his death last week. It was so odd because we just watched "The Hawaiians" again and we were both watching "The Sand Pebbles" the night before finding out that he had died. We've always thougth that Mako was one of the finest actors in American cinema and for over fifteen years while everyone was playing "Six Degrees of Bacon" - we were playing "Six Degrees of Mako". Our good buddy Michael Yoshida and a few fellow crew members of "The Time Machine" had hoped to have a Mako Film Festival here on Maui and have this incredible actor be a guest of the festival and be honored by Hawaii film goers. We deeply regret passing on this news. He was a treasure of American cinema and pop culture. We'll miss him.
Jenny Leong and Michael McCartney
The Time Machine
Mako, a distinguished stage and screen actor who was widely regarded as having blazed the trail for Asian-Americans in films, on television and in the theater, died on Friday July 21st, 2006 at his home in Somis, Calif. He was 72.
The cause was esophageal cancer, his wife, Shizuko Hoshi, said.
Mako, who used only one name professionally, was born in Japan and came to the United States as a teenager. An Academy Award-nominated actor, he was also a distinguished presence on the Broadway stage, winning a Tony nomination in the leading role of the Reciter in the original cast of Pacific Overtures.
Mako earned an Oscar nomination for The Sand Pebbles (1966), in which he played opposite Steve McQueen. Among his other films are Conan the Barbarian (1982), Conan the Destroyer (1984), Seven Years in Tibet (1997), Pearl Harbor (2001) and Memoirs of a Geisha, released last year.
Pacific Overtures, which opened in 1976 at the Winter Garden Theater, was Makos Broadway debut. With music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, it told the story of Commodore Matthew Perrys American expedition of 1853, which renewed Japans contact with the West after more than two centuries of almost complete isolation.
Though Mako was a nonsinger, his authoritative presence set the tone of the show from the moment he delivered its opening lines:
In the middle of the world we float,
In the middle of the sea.
The realities remain remote
In the middle of the sea.
Reviewing the musical in The New York Times, Clive Barnes wrote, The leading role that of a Reciter who occasionally plays a part in the action was brilliantly taken by Mako.
Makoto Iwamatsu was born on Dec. 10, 1933, in Kobe, Japan. When he was a young child, his mother and father moved to New York to study art, leaving Mako in the care of his grandparents. He joined his parents in New York after World War II.
Intending to become an architect, Mako began his studies at the Pratt Institute. One day, a classmate asked him to help design and build a stage set. Mako quickly succumbed to the theaters hypnotic pull so much so that he seldom went to class and, as a result, lost his student draft deferment. After two years in the United States Army, he enrolled at the Pasadena Playhouse, where he studied acting.
In the 1950s and well beyond, there were few roles for Asian actors on the American stage or screen. Those parts that existed were often demeaning. Typically written in pidgin English, they portrayed stock figures like houseboys, coolies, laundrymen and white slavers. Mako, who began his career playing small roles on television shows like McHales Navy 77 Sunset Strip and I Spy, was often similarly cast.
In The Sand Pebbles he played Po-han, a Chinese coolie who spoke broken English. But most reviewers hailed the performance, saying it transcended the roles stereotypical confines.
In 1965, Mako helped found the East West Players, the nations first Asian-American repertory company, based in Los Angeles. He was its artistic director until 1989. In 1980, he directed the first two plays on Asian-American subjects to be produced at the Public Theater in New York: The Music Lessons, by Wakako Yamauchi, and FOB, by David Henry Hwang.
Besides his wife, an actress, director, dancer and choreographer, Mako is survived by their two daughters, Sala Icsman of Hamburg, N.J., and Mimosa Skelton of Camarillo, Calif.; a sister, Momo Yashima, of Los Angeles; and two grandchildren.
Despite the progress Asian actors made during his lifetime, Mako remained adamant that many barriers still existed. As he explained in an interview with The Los Angeles Times in 1992:
"I go into a young film directors office these days and he says, Hey man, I know who you are. I grew up watching McHales Navy. And I think, Oh boy, here we go again." California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has expressed condolences over the death of legendary Japanese-American actor Mako who is credited with opening the doors to Hollywood and Broadway for many Asian-American actors.
"Maria and I were saddened to hear the news of Mako's passing. He was a talented actor whom I learned a lot from when we worked together on 'Conan the Barbarian' and 'Conan the Destroyer,'" said Schwarzenegger in a statement issued Tuesday.
Mako delivered the unforgettably haunting narration for "Conan the Barbarian" and played the memorable role of the Wizard Akiro who personifies the sorcery to match then up-and-coming action hero Schwarzenegger and his sword in that film and in the sequel, according to the official Schwarzenegger website.
"Mako was also an extraordinary teacher who made the dream of acting a reality to many Asian-American actors through his East West Players theater company, Schwarzenegger said. "Our thoughts are with Mako's family as they mourn the loss of a gifted individual."
Actor Mako dies -- pioneer for Asian Americans
By JOCELYN STEWART
Los Angeles Times
In the early days of his acting career, when most roles offered to Asian American actors were caricatures or stereotypes, Mako took just such a part and used it to open the doors of Hollywood and Broadway to others.
In the 1966 film ''The Sand Pebbles,'' he played the Chinese character Po-han who spoke pidgin English, called the white sailors in the movie ''master,'' and treated them as such. But through the power of his acting, Mako transformed Po-han and compelled the audience to empathize and identify with the engine-room ''coolie.''
The portrayal earned Mako an Academy Award nomination, which he used to continue his push for more and better roles for Asian American actors.
Mako, who in 1965 co-founded the East West Players, the nation's first Asian American theater company, died Friday of esophageal cancer at his home in Somis He was 72.
''What many people say is, 'if it wasn't for Mako there wouldn't have been Asian American theater,''' said Tim Dang, current artistic director of East West Players based in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles.
He appeared on series including ''McHale's Navy,'' ''I Spy,'' ''MASH,'' ''Quincy,'' and ''Walker, Texas Ranger.''
In films, he was a Japanese admiral in the film ''Pearl Harbor,'' and a Singaporean in ''Seven Years in Tibet.''
He was Akiro the wizard in ''Conan the Barbarian'' and ''Conan the Destroyer'' movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
But Mako had a larger view of the possibilities for Asian American actors.
As artistic director of the East West Players, Mako trained generations of actors and playwrights. He brought to the stage classics including Shakespeare's ''Twelfth Night,'' Chekhov's ''Three Sisters,'' and lesser known contemporary works. He devoted the entire 1981 season to works discussing the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II. The series coincided with the opening of a national discussion on internment reparations. It was a risky endeavor, but Mako said it was crucial.
Although his own career was marked by moments of success, it was also forged by struggle.
''Generally for him it was particularly hard, because he was an immigrant... there was the linguistic challenge,'' said George Takei, who played Sulu in ''Star Trek.'' ''But he recognized we needed more opportunities to practice our craft.''
Mako was born Makoto Iwamatsu in Kobe, Japan, on Dec. 10, 1933. When Mako was 5, his parents left Japan to study art in New York. Mako stayed behind to be raised by his grandparents.
Because his parents lived on the East Coast, they were not interned during World War II. They ended up working for the U.S. Office of War Information and were later granted residency. Mako joined them when he was 15.
A young Mako had a plan to become an architect and enrolled at the Pratt Institute in New York. But that plan changed when a friend asked him to design a set and do lighting for an off-Broadway children's play. Mako was hooked: ''That's when the trouble began,'' he said. ''I was out of class so much that I lost my draft deferment.''
During his two years in the military, he traveled to Korea and Japan and re-immersed himself in Japanese culture. After his discharge, he moved to California and studied theater at the Pasadena Playhouse.
Mako married Shizuko Hoshi, a dancer, choreographer and actress. She survives him along with their daughters, Sala and Mimosa.
Mako used the prominence the Oscar nomination for ''The Sand Pebbles'' gave him to address the dearth of parts for Asian Americans in general. Unless a script specifically called for an Asian American, producers and casting directors rejected them for the roles.
''Of course, we've been fighting against stereotypes from Day 1 at East West,'' Mako said in a 1986 interview with the Los Angeles Times. ''That's the reason we formed: to combat that, and to show we are capable of more than just fulfilling the stereotypes -- waiter, laundryman, gardener, martial artist, villain.''
The company's mission soon expanded to include training writers. ''Unless our story is told to (other) people, it's hard for them to understand where we are,'' Mako said.
Mako, the group's first artistic director, kept the theater afloat paying the company's bills. He also taught acting classes.
In 1976, Mako appeared in the Stephen Sondheim musical ''Pacific Overtures,'' playing multiples roles as reciter, shogun, emperor and an American businessman. Set in 1853, the play explores U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry's push to open Japan to foreign trade and visitors for the first time in 250 years.
The performance earned Mako a Tony Award nomination for best actor in a musical.AN APPRECIATION
Like ripples in the water
As a performer and as co-founder of East West Players, Mako set many changes in motion. The benefits keep accruing.
By David Henry Hwang, Special to The Los Angeles Times
In 1965, there were no Asians in America. At least according to Hollywood, there were only Orientals: Japanese and Korean enemies, mysterious foreigners crammed into exotic Chinatowns, geisha girls beguiling American servicemen abroad, Charlie Chans, Fu Manchus and the cook on "Bonanza." To the movies, an Oriental was Mickey Rooney in "Breakfast at Tiffany's," Luise Rainer in "The Good Earth" or Marlon Brando in "The Teahouse of the August Moon."
Yet in 1965, a young actor named Mako believed Asians did exist in this country, and he spent his life proving it, not only through his most acclaimed performances — his Oscar- and Tony Award-nominated roles in, respectively, "The Sand Pebbles" and "Pacific Overtures" — but also in the everyday jobs of a working actor — from "McHale's Navy" to "F Troop" — where his talent and dedication consistently managed to elevate stereotypes into fully realized human beings.
Had Mako's achievement been limited to his own performances, we would be remembering him today as a brilliant artist and pioneer. But he was also a fighter and activist of extraordinary vision and courage. In 1965, he co-founded East West Players, the nation's first Asian American theater, and served as its artistic director until 1989. Suddenly, Asian actors were not simply looking for work, they were taking control of how their stories would be told. It was natural, then, that under Mako's leadership, East West evolved from an actors' theater into one that also nurtured new playwrights, thus giving birth to a literary and artistic movement. Though the invention of Asian American theater was a collective act, Mako was its center, its heart, its founding father, the glue that held all else together.
My own story is typical. My mother was the piano accompanist for one of East West's earliest productions, Gian Carlo Menotti's operetta "The Medium." Dragged to rehearsals as a child, I spent time mostly running around underfoot, but the experience taught me early on that Asians could be theater artists. Years later, as a college student, I started writing plays. Mako had initiated a playwriting contest, which encouraged me to tackle Asian American themes. East West gave me a summer internship, in which I reupholstered seats and watched sets being constructed. When my first play was slated for production in New York, Mako was tapped to direct. He called me up: "There's someone who'd be good for your play. Come down to the theater and meet him." I showed up at East West's then-home on Santa Monica Boulevard, where he introduced me to a young actor named John Lone, who would later find fame in the title role of Bernardo Bertolucci's film "The Last Emperor."
More than any other theater I've known since, East West Players under Mako's leadership felt like a family. Sometimes, this was true in a literal sense, with his wife, Shizuko Hoshi, his daughters, Sala and Mimosa, his sister Momo, all remarkable talents in their own rights, busily working on productions. Like all families, there were the inevitable quarrels and rivalries and heated arguments, but even these were made possible by an overarching sense that we were all in this together, searching for a voice that had not yet been heard in the American theater. At the center of it all was Mako — passionate, exacting, more fun than just about anyone to drink and eat and swap stories with: our benevolent patriarch. This freewheeling environment was exactly what we needed to dream big dreams, to experiment, to fail — and to succeed. Mako knew this, the same way he knew so much about his own world, and about the future. With his unforgettable mix of warm smile, raspy voice and steely commitment to excellence, he was difficult to dislike, and impossible not to love.
Just last month, East West Players hosted the first ever national Asian American theater conference. Almost 200 attendees from three continents, representing dozens of theater companies, gathered as testament to the movement's explosive growth and its potential for the new century. At one point, thinking of Mako, whose illness was then known, the director Judith Nihei commented, "None of us would be even here, if not for that man."
Mako's life touched that of every Asian American theater artist, whether he or she knew him or not; when he passed away on July 21, we all lost a colleague, a friend and an ardently supportive father. Moreover, anyone who has ever attended an Asian American play, or watched Asian actors perform onstage or onscreen in recent decades, has seen the work of Mako. He lives, not only through the roles he played himself but also in those played by others, and those yet to come.
Goodbye, Mako. Thank you for helping us find so much of ourselves. We will miss you, even as we see you everywhere.David Henry Hwang is a Tony Award-winning playwright whose works include "M. Butterfly," "FOB," "Golden Child" and the musical books for Disney's "Aida" and "Tarzan," and the Broadway revival of "Flower Drum Song." And finally, words from the artist himself from a 2002 interview at Schwarzenegger.com:
A deep drum sounds slowly in the background... we hear a growling voice begin:
"Between the times when the oceans drank Atlantis and the rise of the Sons of Aries, there was an age undreamed of, and unto this, Conan, destined to bear the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow. It is I, his chronicler, who alone can tell thee of his saga. Let me tell you of the days of high adventure..."
Mako, born Makoto Iwamatsu, delivered the unforgettably haunting narration for "Conan the Barbarian." In that film and in "Conan the Destroyer" he played the memorable character of the Wizard. To Arnold fans, he is an icon. He personifies the sorcery to match Arnold's sword.
Mako has had an illustrious film and television career. In 1966, when Arnold was competing in some of his first bodybuilding competitions, Mako received an Academy Award(R) nomination as Best Supporting Actor for his first film role, as the coolie Po-Han in "The Sand Pebbles." He has since starred in over 60 movies and made more than 50 television appearances.
In the early days of his film career, Mako formed a theater group in Los Angeles called the East/West Players (EWP). Since its founding, EWP has premiered over 100 plays and musicals about the Asian Pacific American experience and, through its many artistic and educational programs, has held over 1,000 readings and workshops. EWP is the only repertory theatre in Southern California that specifically implements its mission to develop an Asian Pacific American audience.
With all the buzz and excitement about the Conan 3 sequel, we wanted to get some background information on one of Conan's most integral sidekicks. We were extremely pleased when Mako agreed to a telephone interview with us.
Schwarzenegger.com: You were born in Kobe, Japan in 1933. Can you tell us a little about your life growing up?
Mako: Japan in those days was peaceful as I recall because the war hadn't started yet. Of course as a child, I didn't sense any of those political movements that had been going on in Japan. In other words, the militarism that was taking over Japanese politics. Of course, I didn't see it. I guess if anything, my parents tried to shield me from that type of atmosphere. So I was a very happy child, so to speak. But, since we didn't have video games or television, and very little radio, in terms of a form of entertainment, I used to read a lot and I would draw a lot, and those two things used to occupy my time, and I used to dream away of someday becoming a general.
Schwarzenegger.com: Arnold had to come to America to become an actor. Is that how it happened with you? Or were you an actor in Japan, as well?
Mako: No, I wasn't. I came to America to become an architect. And somewhere along the line while I was still in school, I was lured into theater, and that's how I became interested in theater. My first play was something called "A Banquet for the Moon." It was a weird play.
Schwarzenegger.com: When you first read the script for Conan the Barbarian, what were your thoughts?
Mako: I couldn't make heads or tails of it, because I wasn't familiar with the novels, or the cartoons. I had a younger friend, who is an actor as well, but he was a Conan freak, you know, a fanatic. So he loaned me stacks of novels, but I couldn't really get into it. Then he said, "I tell you what, maybe comic books might be of interest to you." So, again he brought me a whole stack of comic books. And, it's funny, you know, since I was not raised with comic books in this country, I had a hard time digesting it. So, I mentioned that to John Milius, and Milius said, "Ok...you remember Kurosawa's Seven Samurai?" I said yes. "You remember cut number such-and-such?" I said, "I don't know the cut numbers, but I do remember the characters." He said, "Yeah, that's the kind of wizard I am looking for, and, also, another actor, in Seven Samurai in a different scene, do you remember him?" I said, "Yeah. I respect that old guy very much." He said, "That's the kind of composite of character that I'm looking for." So, then, it became easier for me to visualize, because instead of visualizing myself being in (Conan) I could clearly visualize those two characters being involved in a situation that wizards would be in. See that's the kind of direction that Milius gave me. He knew what he was after... even though he wasn't too verbal.
Schwarzenegger.com: Describe your first encounter with Arnold for us.
Mako: My first encounter with Arnold was in Almeria in Spain. John Milius had asked me to work with Sandahl Bergman and Gerry Lopez. Arnold must have heard of me, because there was a time he was contemplating coming with them to work in the scene and such. But that never materialized. So, when we first met Arnold then, finally, he was like (in Arnold accent) "Hello, Mako." (Laughs.) We weren't strangers. I didn't feel as if I were meeting a stranger, you know? He was very open and friendly.
Schwarzenegger.com: Besides the Conan adventures, you have worked on some amazing films in your career including "Pearl Harbor" and "The Sand Pebbles." What were some of your favorites?
Mako:My favorite would be... oh; I have to go back to "The Sand Pebbles." Unfortunately, "Pearl Harbor" is not one of my favorites.
Schwarzenegger.com: A Conan movie just isn't a Conan movie without your wizard character, Akiro, and your narration. Have you and John Milius talked about the 3rd Conan movie yet?
Mako: I have seen him once or twice since the first Conan film for a different picture. I guess John was troubleshooting or helping a director with a script or whatever, and I went in for a meeting, but that's about it, so we have never discussed the third. We shall see.
Schwarzenegger.com: You are an Artistic Director Emeritus for the East/West Players in Los Angeles, and you have worked with them for a long time, in fact, you co-founded the group. Can you tell us about your experiences with the group?
Mako: Our motivation for creating a theater company for ourselves is so that we can control what we do, and what we will be doing. We emphasize developing younger Asian-American actors as well as writers, directors and designers as well. So working with them was very difficult and yet rewarding for me. It was hard work, it was draining emotionally, as well as financially, but it was worth it.
Schwarzenegger.com: What directions would you like to see the East/West Players take in the future?
Mako: In the future I think I would like to see them developing more writers, playwrights. This is my preference, but it seems like they've been doing nothing but musicals or plays with music, which is fine, but I would like to see them devote half their time at least to developing drama.
Schwarzenegger.com: What are you currently working on?
Mako: I am waiting for John Milius to call me! (Laughs.)An incomplete listing of his many works on the big screen and small screen:
2007 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles *slated as a starring voice for this animated feature
2005 Avatar: The Last Airbender *Animated TV Series
2005 Memoirs of a Geisha
2003 Black Sash
2003 Bulletproof Monk
2003 Samurai Jack: Season 03
2003 Charmed: Love's a Witch (aka Charmed: Episode 116)
2002 Samurai Jack: Season 02
2001 Samurai Jack *Animated TV Series
2001 Samurai Jack: Season 01
2001 Pearl Harbor
2000 Rugrats in Paris: The Movie
1998 The Bird People of China (aka Chugoku No Chojin)
1997 Seven Years in Tibet
1997 Riot in the Streets
1997 Balance of Power
1995 Crying Freeman
1995 Highlander: The Final Dimension (aka Highlander III: The Sorcerer *1994)
1994 Red Sun Rising
1994 A Dangerous Place
1994 Frasier: Author, Author (aka Frasier: Episode 022)
1994 Cultivating Charlie
1993 Rising Sun
1992 Robocop 3
1992 My Samurai
1991 The Perfect Weapon
1990 Murder in Paradise
1990 Pacific Heights
1990 Taking Care of Business (aka Filofax)
1989 Fatal Mission (aka Enemy *2005)
1989 An Unremarkable Life
1988 The Wash
1988 Silent Assassins
1988 The Nightingale
1988 Tucker: The Man and His Dream
1986 Armed Response (aka Jade Jungle)
1986 Kung Fu: The Movie
1986 P.O.W.: The Escape (aka Behind Enemy Lines)
1985 Yuki Shimoda: Asian American Actor
1984 Conan the Destroyer
1984 Hawaiian Heat
1983 Faerie Tale Theatre: The Nightingale
1983 The Last Ninja
1983 Death Ride to Osaka (aka Girls of the White Orchid)
1982 When Hell Was in Session
1982 Conan the Barbarian
1981 An Eye for an Eye
1981 Under the Rainbow
1980 The Bushido Blade (aka Bloody Bushido Blade)
1980 M*A*S*H: The Best of Enemies (aka M*A*S*H: Episode 199)
1980 Battle Creek Brawl (aka The Big Brawl)
1979 M*A*S*H: Guerilla My Dreams (aka M*A*S*H: Episode 176)
1976 M*A*S*H: Hawkeye Get Your Gun (aka M*A*S*H: Episode 108)
1976 Farewell to Manzanar
1975 The Killer Elite
1974 The Island at the Top of the World
1974 Judge Dee and the Monastery Murders
1972 The Streets of San Francisco
1971 Chinmoku (aka Silence)
1971 If Tomorrow Comes
1970 The Challenge
1970 The Hawaiians (aka Master of the Islands)
1969 The Great Bank Robbery
1968 The Private Navy of Sgt. O'Farrell
1966 The Sand Pebbles
1965 I Dream of Jeannie: The Marriage Caper
1965 The Ugly Dachshund