Monday, July 24, 2006

R.I.P. Mako (1933-2006)

Makoto Iwamatsu, more famously known as "Mako," died Friday, July 21st of esophageal cancer at 72.

Not many outside of Asian America know his name, but many recognize his face. The veteran actor earned an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the 1966 film The Sand Pebbles, and he was one of the founding members of East West Players, the nation's first Asian American theater company.

He has at least 138 roles credited to him on the Internet Movie Database, starting with a role on the Lloyd Bridges Show in the episode "Yankee Stay Here."

He was in the TV series McHale's Navy, I Dream of Jeannie, Gidget, I Spy, The Green Hornet, Wonder Woman, Hawaii Five-O, and the list goes on.

I recommend taking a look at his IMDB entry. Chances are very high that unless you lived under a rock, you've seen his work or heard his distinctive voice, which has been featured in cartoons such as Rugrats In Paris, Samurai Jack, Duck Dodgers, Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! and even the recent series, Avatar: The Last Airbender. (But apparently never Sagwa: The Chinese Siamese Cat! Yay! Even in Hollywood, you can still have standards.)

A reasonably good tribute site can be found at here with some great interviews and pictures of him throughout his exceptional career.

He gave some interesting insights into the experience of Asian American actors in the recent documentary Slanted Screen. If you get a chance to, check it out. The LA Times also has an extensive obituary on him this week.

I'll be the first to admit that many of the roles he had to take were rarely what we would call 'great', but it's always been clear that he took his craft seriously and tried to be a professional even as Hollywood rarely saw him as anything more than a bit character actor whenever they needed an Asian or Asian American character (and all too often, a villain.)

So long, Mako, and thanks for paving the way.

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