Mako Iwamatsu

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Mako Iwamatsu
Picture of Mako Iwamatsu
Native name 岩松 マコ
Born (1933-12-10)December 10, 1933
Kobe, Hyōgo, Empire of Japan
Died July 21, 2006(2006-07-21) (aged 72)
Somis, California, United States
Cause of death Esophageal cancer
Other names Mako
Alma mater Pasadena Community Playhouse
Occupation Actor, voice actor
Years active 1959–2006
Spouse(s) Shizuko Hoshi

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 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.

Early life

Mako was born in Kobe, Japan, the son of noted children's book authors and illustrators Taro Yashima and Mitsu 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.[1] 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.[2]


Film and theatre

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. 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.[3] He 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.[2] 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; 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 in some Japanese TV dramas and films, 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 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.

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.

Personal life

Mako was married to actress Shizuko Hoshi, with whom he had two daughters (Mimosa and Sala — both are actresses) and 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.[4] Kevin Munroe, director of the film, confirmed that Mako had completed his recording.[5][6] 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.



Year Title Role Notes
1959 Never So Few Soldier in the hospital
1965 McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force Japanese Submarine Captain
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
1975 The Killer Elite Yuen Chung
1980 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 Testament Mike
1983 The Last Ninja Mantaro Sakura
1984 Conan the Destroyer Akiro the Wizard
1986 Behind Enemy Lines Capt. Vinh
1988 Tucker: The Man and His Dream Jimmy
1990 Taking Care of Business Mr. Sakamoto
1990 Pacific Heights Toshio Watanabe
1991 The Perfect Weapon Kim
1992 Sidekicks Mr. Lee
1993 RoboCop 3 Kanemitsu
Rising Sun Yoshida-san
1994 Highlander III: The Sorcerer Nakano
1995 Midnight Man Buun Som
Crying Freeman Shudo Shimazaki
1997 Seven Years in Tibet Kungo Tsarong
1998 The Bird People in China Shen
1999 Alegría Adult Momo Also the narrator of the story
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
2005 Cages Tan
Memoirs of a Geisha Sakamoto
2007 Rise: Blood Hunter Poe
2007 TMNT Master Splinter Voice; posthumous


Year Title Role Notes
1962 The Lloyd Bridges Show Takahashi Episode: "Yankee Stay Here"
1962–1963 Ensign O'Toole Kumagae
Sgt. Harada
Yamada Jr.
Episodes: "Operation: Kowana"
"Operation: Holdout"
"Operation: Geisha"
1962–1965 McHale's Navy Capt. Uzaki
Lt. Sakawa
Lt. Yamasake
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"
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
Major Choi
Lt. Hung Lee Park
Li Han
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"
"The Disciple"
1979 Supertrain Kirby Episode: "Pirouette"
1979 Wonder Woman Mr. Brown Episode: "Going, Going, Gone"
1983 The Gallant Men Frank Fakuda Episode: "One Puka Puka"
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
Edward Song
Episodes: "Heart of the Dragon"
"Black Dragons"
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"
2001–2004 Samurai Jack Aku Voice
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
Red Dragon
Additional Voices
Voice; Main Role
Final Role (replaced by Greg Baldwin)

Video games

Year Title Role Notes
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
Wrath Unleashed Narrator Voice


  1. "Mako, 72; Actor Opened Door for Asian Americans". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2012-05-26.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pulvers, Roger (September 18, 2011), "Mako: the Japanese-American actor who fought racist stereotypes", The Japan Times<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Niiya, Brian. "Mako". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 29, 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. TMNT at Superhero Hype
  5. Ain't it Cool interview with director Kevin Munroe
  6. On the Set of TMNT!

External links