Mako (actor)

Makoto "Mako" Iwamatsu (岩松誠, Iwamatsu Makoto, December 10, 1933 – July 21, 2006) was a Japanese–American actor, voice artist and singer best known for his roles as Po-Han in The Sand Pebbles (1966) (for which he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor), Oomiak "The Fearless One" in The Island at the Top of the World (1974),[1] Akiro the Wizard in Conan the Barbarian (1982) and Conan the Destroyer (1984) and Kungo Tsarong in Seven Years in Tibet (1997). Almost all of his acting roles credited him as Mako. He was part of the original cast of Stephen Sondheim's 1976 Broadway musical Pacific Overtures, which earned him a Tony Award nomination for Best Actor in a Musical. He was also one of the founding members of East West Players.[2]

Native name
Makoto Iwamatsu

(1933-12-10)December 10, 1933
DiedJuly 21, 2006(2006-07-21) (aged 72)
Other namesMako Iwamatsu
Alma materPasadena Playhouse
OccupationActor, voice artist, singer
Years active1959–2006
Spouse(s)Shizuko Hoshi

Later in his career, he became well known for his voice-over roles like Aku in Samurai Jack (2001–2004) and Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender (2005–2006). He has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame at 7095 Hollywood Blvd.

Early life

Mako was born Makoto Iwamatsu[3] in Kobe, Japan, the son of noted children's book authors and illustrators Tomoe Sasako and Atsushi Iwamatsu. In 1939 his parents, who were political dissidents, moved to the United States, leaving Mako in the care of his grandmother.[4][5] 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.[3] When Mako first joined his parents in the United States, he studied architecture. During his military service, he discovered his theatrical talent and trained at the Pasadena Community Playhouse.[4]



Mako's first film role was in the film Never So Few (1959). He was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as engine-room coolie Po-Han in the film The Sand Pebbles (1966).[4] Other roles include the Chinese contract laborer Mun Ki in the epic movie The Hawaiians (1970) starring Charlton Heston and Tina Chen; Oomiak, the Eskimo guide, in Disney's Island at the Top of the World (1974); Yuen Chung in the film The Killer Elite (1975) 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 (1980); 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 thriller An Eye for an Eye (1982); the Japanese spy in the comedy Under the Rainbow. In 1990, he had a minor role in the psychological thriller Pacific Heights along with Matthew Modine, Melanie Griffith and Michael Keaton; Yoshida-san in Rising Sun; Mr. Lee in Sidekicks; Kanemitsu in RoboCop 3 (1993); and Kungo Tsarong in Seven Years in Tibet (1997).

He also appeared in some Japanese television dramas and films, such as Masahiro Shinoda's Owls' Castle and Takashi Miike's The Bird People in China.

Mako was cast as the historic Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in the epic drama Pearl Harbor (2001). He also had a role in Bulletproof Monk (2003). In 2005, Mako had a cameo role in Memoirs of a Geisha. Mako's last leading role was in the film Cages (2005), written and directed by Graham Streeter.

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.[6] He remained artistic director of the company until 1989.

Mako's Broadway career included creating the roles of the Reciter, the shōgun, 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.[7] 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 awoken at 4:30 the morning after the Tony ceremony by Orbach, who was shouting from the floor below: "Hey, Mako! What the fuck happened? I can't believe it; we lost to a fucking revival!".[8] Mako reprised the role and directed the musical's production with the East West Players,[9] and further reprised the role in a production at the San Jose Civic Light Opera in 1991.[10] He also starred in the limited run of the play Shimada in 1992.


Mako appeared on the television series McHale's Navy several times, playing Imperial Japanese officers, soldiers and sailors. He later appeared on the television series M*A*S*H, playing multiple roles such as a Chinese doctor, North Korean soldier, a South Korean Major medical doctor and a South Korean Lieutenant. He appeared in an episode of the series The Time Tunnel called "Kill Two by Two" as Lt. Nakamura in 1967. He appeared in an episode of the series Kung Fu as Wong Ti Lu in 1972 ("The Tide"). In 1974, he appeared on Ironside episode "Terror on Grant Avenue". He appeared as a Japanese chef in the Columbo episode "Murder Under Glass" (1978). He was the blind philosopher Li Sung in two episodes of the television series The Incredible Hulk. He also appeared on an episode of Magnum, P.I. called "The Arrow That Is Not Aimed" (1983). Mako also appeared in an episode of the television series 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 episode "Black Dragons" (2000), and appeared on the television series Charmed in 2003, creating magic for Chris (played by Drew Fuller). His last "made-for-TV" movie appears to be Rise: Blood Hunter (2007).

He was the voice of Aku, the main antagonist in the animated series Samurai Jack for the four original seasons produced, and again in the series finale which used his original audio. He also voiced 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 have an episode during that season dedicated to him, "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.

Video games

Mako made his video game debut with the role of the goblin Grubjub in Lionheart: Legacy of the Crusader (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.

Personal life

Mako was married to actress Shizuko Hoshi, with whom he had two daughters (Mimosa and Sala—both of whom are actresses) and three grandchildren.


Mako died in Somis, California, on July 21, 2006, at age 72, from esophageal cancer.[11] One day before his death, Mako had been confirmed to star in the film TMNT as the voice of Splinter.[12] Kevin Munroe, director of the film, confirmed that Mako had completed his recording.[13][14] The producers dedicated the finished film 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).[15]

After Mako's death, some of his roles, particularly Aku from Samurai Jack and Iroh in Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, were taken over by American voice actor Greg Baldwin.



1959Never So FewSoldier in the hospitalUncredited
1965McHale's Navy Joins the Air ForceJapanese Submarine CaptainUncredited
1966The Ugly DachshundKenji
The Sand PebblesPo-hanNominated - Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor
Nominated - Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actor
1968The Private Navy of Sgt. O'FarrellCalvin Coolidge Ishimura
1969The Great Bank RobberySecret Agent Fong
1970The HawaiiansMun Ki
1972Yokohama MamaRoosterVoice, Short
1974The Island at the Top of the WorldOomiak
1975PrisonersSgt. Nguyen
The Killer EliteYuen Chung
1980The Big BrawlHerbert
Hito Hata: Raise the BannerOda
1981Under the RainbowNakomuri
An Eye for an EyeJames Chan
The Bushido BladeEnjiro
1982Conan the BarbarianAkiro the Wizard
1984Conan the DestroyerAkiro the Wizard
1986Behind Enemy LinesCapt. Vinh
Armed ResponseAkira Tanaka
1988Silent AssassinsOyama
Tucker: The Man and His DreamJimmy
The WashNobu Matsumoto
1989An Unremarkable LifeMax Chin
1990Pu guang ren wuTrang
Taking Care of BusinessMr. Sakamoto
Pacific HeightsToshio Watanabe
1991The Perfect WeaponKim
Sutoroberi rodoFrank Machida
1992My SamuraiMr. Tszing
SidekicksMr. Lee
1993RoboCop 3Kanemitsu
Rising SunYoshida-san
1994Cultivating CharlieKatsu
Red Sun RisingBuntoro Iga
A Dangerous PlaceSensei
Highlander III: The SorcererNakano
1995Midnight ManBuun Som
Crying FreemanShudo Shimazaki
1996Balance of PowerTodo Matsumoto
Sworn to JusticeMr. Young
1997Sacred TrustMr. Jordan
Seven Years in TibetKungo Tsarong
1998The Bird People in ChinaShen
1999AlegríaAdult Momo
Owls' CastleToyotomi Hideyoshi
2000Talk to TakaMr. HiroShort
Rugrats in Paris: The MovieMr. YamaguchiVoice
2001Pearl HarborAdm. Isoroku Yamamoto
2002Cruel GameStraw Hat
2003Bulletproof MonkMr. Kojima
Bus StoryFather ChristmasShort
Memoirs of a GeishaSakamoto
2007TMNTMaster SplinterVoice, Posthumous release
Rise: Blood HunterPoePosthumous release, (final film role)


1962The Lloyd Bridges ShowTakahashiEpisode: "Yankee Stay Here"
1962–1963Ensign O'TooleVarious roles3 episodes
1962–1965McHale's NavyVarious roles9 episodes
1963The Gallant MenFrank FakudaEpisode: "One Puka Puka"
77 Sunset StripIko NakayamaEpisode: "Stranger from the Sea"
1964Arrest and TrialKyotoEpisode: "Signals of an Ancient Flame"
1964–1965BroadsideJapanese Commander / Captain Osato2 episodes
Burke's LawPete / Happy Tuava2 episodes
1965I Dream of JeannieKatoEpisode: "Jeannie and the Marriage Caper"
GidgetCaseyEpisode: "The War Between Men, Women and Gidget"
The Wackiest Ship in the ArmyT. Vushikori / Captain Kulijame2 episodes
1965–1966I SpyJimmy / Baby Face3 episodes
1966The Green HornetLow SingEpisode: "The Praying Mantis"
1966, 1968The F.B.I.Angry Youth / Yoshimura2 episodes
1967The Time TunnelLt. NakamuraEpisode: "Kill Two by Two"
F TroopSamurai WarriorEpisode: "From Karate with Love"
Vacation PlayhouseSimbaEpisode: "Alfred of the Amazon"
1968The Big ValleyWong LoEpisode: "Rimfire"
1970The ChallengeYuroTelevision film
1971If Tomorrow ComesTadashiTelevision film
1972The Streets of San FranciscoKenjiEpisode: "Pilot"
Room 222Mr. ShigematsuEpisode: "Just Call Me Mr. Shigematsu"
Anna and the KingSanumEpisode: "The King and the Egg"
1973Kung FuWong Ti LuEpisode: "The Tide"
Love, American StyleJackEpisode: "Love and the Fortunate Cookie"
1974–1980M*A*S*HVarious roles4 episodes
1974IronsidePhilEpisode: "Terror on Grant Avenue"
MannixTami OkadaEpisode: "Enter Tami Okada"
Judge Dee and the Monastery MurdersTao GanTelevision film
1976Hawaii Five-OKazuo TahashiEpisode: "Legacy of Terror"
Farewell to ManzanarFukimotoTelevision film
VisionsMasu MurakamiEpisode: "Gold Watch"
1977, 1982Quincy, M.E.Mr. Yamaguchi / John MoroshimaEpisode: "Touch of Death"
1978ColumboKanji OusuEpisode: "Murder Under Glass"
1978–1979The Incredible HulkLi Sung2 episodes
1979SupertrainKirbyEpisode: "Pirouette"
Wonder WomanMr. BrownEpisode: "Going, Going, Gone"
Salvage 1ToshiroEpisode: "Shangri-la Lil"
When Hell Was in SessionMajor BaiTelevision film
A Man Called SloaneTanakaEpisode: "Samurai"
1981Fantasy IslandKwong Soo LukeEpisode: "The Heroine; The Warrior"
1982Voyagers!Slave AuctioneerEpisode: "The Travels Of Marco...And Friends"
Bring 'Em Back AliveTanakoEpisode: "The Pied Piper"
The Facts of LifeMr. WakamatsuEpisode: "The Americanization of Miko"
Romance TheatreShibata5 episodes
1983The Gallant MenFrank FakudaEpisode: "One Puka Puka"
Girls of the White OrchidMoriTelevision film
The Last NinjaMantaro SakuraPilot
The A-TeamLin Duk CooEpisode: "Recipe for Heavy Bread"
Magnum, P.I.TozanEpisode: "The Arrow That Is Not Aimed"
Greatest American HeroMaster of FlowersEpisode: "Thirty Seconds Over Little Tokyo"
Faerie Tale TheatreGardener / MinisterEpisode: "The Nightingale"
1984Hawaiian HeatMaj. Taro Oshira11 episodes
1986Kung Fu: The MovieThe ManchuTelevision film
1987OharaToshiEpisode: "Toshi"
Spenser: For HireTommy NguyenEpisode: "My Brother's Keeper"
Tour of DutyTranEpisode: "Sitting Ducks"
1988The EqualizerJimmy ThanaratEpisode: "Riding the Elephant"
1990Murder in ParadiseCaptain KilaloTelevision film
ParadiseKaoEpisode: "Dangerous Cargo"
The Paradise ClubMr. YamamotoEpisode: "The Rotherhithe Project"
Hiroshima: Out of the AshesSgt. MoritakiTelevision film
1991LovejoyToshiro Tanaka2 episodes
1992NightingaleNarratorVoice, Television film
1993Shaky GroundNakamuraEpisode: "Stayin' Alive"
1994FrasierSam TanakaEpisode: "Author, Author"
1994, 1996Kung Fu: The Legend ContinuesLi Sung2 episodes
1995Platypus ManMr. LooEpisode: "Dying to Live"
1996–2003Dexter's LaboratoryNarratorVoice, 13 episodes
1997, 2000Walker, Texas RangerDr. Henry Lee / Edward Song2 episodes
1997RiotMr. LeeTelevision film; segment: "Gold Mountain"
1999Martial LawMaster Reng2 episodes
7th HeavenHenry MuranakaEpisode: "Dirty Laundry"
2000The Secret Adventures of Jules VerneKajimoriEpisode: "The Inquisitor"
2001Diagnosis MurderLee MoyEpisode: "The Red's Shoes"
2001–2004-2017Samurai JackAkuVoice, 24 episodes
2003Lost at HomeMr. LiEpisode: "Good Will Hunting"
Black SashMaster Li6 episodes
What's New, Scooby-Doo?The Ancient OneVoice, Episode: "Big Appetite in Little Tokyo"
CharmedSorcererEpisode: "Love's a Witch"
2003–2005Duck DodgersHappy Cat / AchooVoice, 4 episodes
2004The Grim Adventures of Billy & MandyNarratorVoice, Episode: "Test of Time/A Kick in the Asgard"
2005MonkMaster ZiEpisode: "Mr. Monk vs. the Cobra"
The West WingDr. Yosh TakahashiEpisode: "A Good Day"
Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go!Master OffayVoice, Episode: "Monster Battle Club Now!"
SokokuLeoTelevision film
2005–2006Avatar: The Last AirbenderUncle Iroh / Additional voices30 episodes

Video games

YearTitleVoice role
2003Lionheart: Legacy of the CrusaderGrumdjum
True Crime: Streets of LAGeneral Kim
Medal of Honor: Rising SunMasataka Shima
Secret Weapons Over NormandyImperial Japanese Voices #1
2004Samurai Jack: The Shadow of AkuAku
Wrath UnleashedNarrator


  1. "The Island at the Top of the World" Wikipage
  2. Team, EWP Web. "About". East West Players. Retrieved July 12, 2019.
  3. "Mako, 72; Actor Opened Door for Asian Americans". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
  4. Pulvers, Roger (September 18, 2011), "Mako: the Japanese-American actor who fought racist stereotypes", The Japan Times
  5. Judy Stone (March 18, 2007). "An unlikely heroine of World War II". SFGate. Retrieved February 4, 2014.
  6. Niiya, Brian. "Mako". Densho Encyclopedia. Retrieved October 29, 2014.
  7. Kerr, Walter (January 18, 1976). "'Pacific Overtures' Is Neither East Nor West". The New York Times.
  8. "Three actors recall their roles in the original Broadway production". The Sondheim Review. 4 (4). Spring 1998. Archived from the original on February 2, 2017. Retrieved September 13, 2016.
  9. Stevens, Rob. "Pacific Overtures reviewed by Rob Stevens". Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  10. Chang, Lia. "Lucille Lortel Nominee Thom Sesma Talks Asian American Representation in the Performing Arts". Backstage Pass with Lia Chang. Retrieved May 8, 2019.
  11. "Mako, 72, Actor Who Extended Asian-American Roles, Dies". The New York Times. July 25, 2006. Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  12. "TMNT Bits and Posters!". SuperHeroHype. July 20, 2006. Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  13. "Quint interviews the CGI TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES movie director, Kevin Munroe!!!". Ain't It Cool. Retrieved May 24, 2017.
  14. "On the Set of TMNT!". MovieWeb. January 24, 2007. Archived from the original on February 6, 2007. Retrieved August 11, 2018. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  15. "The Legend of Korra". IMDB. Amazon. Retrieved July 23, 2017.
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