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Commentary, sarcasm and snide remarks from a Florida resident of over thirty years. Being a glutton for punishment is a requirement for residency here. Who am I? I've been called a moonbat by Michelle Malkin, a Right Wing Nut by Daily Kos, and middle of the road by Florida blog State of Sunshine. Tell me what you think.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Asian-American actor Mako Dead at 72

A familiar face to television and movie audiences, I would guess Mako's name wasn't as well known. He worked in Hollywood for over 40 years, but seemed to play caricatures or stereotypes. Despite improvements, Television and movie writers seem ill equipped to write Asian characters who don't fall into these traps. Take for instance ER which I was a fan of in its earlier years. Tthe character of Jing-Mei 'Deb' Chen was barely developed despite it being a part of the show for five years.

Mako entertained audiences for years in spite of poor scriptwriting. He passed away from cancer last Friday. RIP.

Open Post- Jo's Cafe,

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, Calif. 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 is revered as sort of the godfather of Asian-American theater.''

In an acting career that spanned more than four decades, Mako was a familiar face in film and television. 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.''

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