Yuki Shimoda

Yuki Shimoda (August 10, 1921 – May 21, 1981) was an American actor best known for his starring role as Ko Wakatsuki in the NBC movie of the week Farewell to Manzanar in 1976. He also co-starred in the 1960s television series Johnny Midnight (39 episodes), with Edmond O'Brien. He was a star of movies, early television, and the stage. His Broadway stage credits include Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell, and Pacific Overtures, a musical written by Stephen Sondheim and directed by Harold Prince.

Yuki Shimoda
Yukio Shimoda

(1921-08-10)August 10, 1921
DiedMay 21, 1981(1981-05-21) (aged 59)
Los Angeles, California, US
OccupationActor, dancer
Years active1953–1981

Early life

Yuki Shimoda was born Yukio Shimoda in Sacramento, California on August 10, 1921.

His father was Chojiro Shimoda, who emigrated from the town of Shimoda in Kumamoto prefecture on the island of Kyūshū in Japan. Chojiro left Japan in his early teens because he did not want to be a sweet potato farmer on the family farm and was tired of eating sweet potatoes every day. Shimoda's mother was Kikuyo (Nakamura) Shimoda, also from Kumamoto prefecture. Kikuyo was born to an influential, wealthy, noble samurai family, and her father was a doctor. She left Japan to have freedom as a modern woman and to marry for love rather than marry by arrangement (omiai).

Shimoda was the oldest of three children. His younger brothers were Noboru "Dave" Shimoda, who lived to the age of 82, and James Shimoda, who died as a child of a bacterial infection before the age of antibiotics. Shimoda always had an interest in dancing and acting. As a child, he insisted on being called Fred because he wanted to be like Fred Astaire. In Sacramento, he worked in the family businesses, which included a restaurant, pool hall and boarding house. His parents' restaurant employed a Filipino cook and friend named Felix, who was killed in World War II by the Japanese. This hardened his intense feelings of being an American. His parents were hard working and affluent even during the Great Depression; Shimoda's father owned a Cadillac limousine that he bought from the Japanese government in a time when many people still owned horses. Shimoda worked hard in his adolescence to help his parents, but he made time to dance and act. He studied ballet as well as kendo and judo which helped him become more graceful.

Shimoda attended Sacramento High School. Studying an American curriculum by day, Shimoda filled his evenings and Saturdays attending Japanese language school. Yuki and Noboru were also Boy Scouts. Shimoda's studies at Sacramento Junior College (now known as Sacramento City College) were interrupted when, along with over 100,000 other Japanese-American Issei, Nisei, Kibei Nisei and Sansei; his family was relocated to a Japanese American internment camp after the entry of the United States into World War II per Executive Order 9066. His parents (Issei, or first generation immigrants to America from Japan) were incarcerated without a trial and for no just cause. He spent the duration of World War II in the Tule Lake War Relocation Center in northern California. Shimoda made the best of the incarceration by entertaining his fellow internees with his acting, dancing and singing abilities. Once he dressed like Carmen Miranda complete with fruit on his head to dance and sing to the delight of the camp audience. Seeing his parents lose all their hard-earned possessions and being incarcerated in a concentration camp was particularly hard for a Nisei like Shimoda because he had been raised as an American.

Shimoda and Noboru tried to volunteer for the United States Army after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Shimoda eventually was classified 4F or ineligible for the draft due to a congenital heart murmur. As a child, his parents were told that he would not live to adulthood due to his bad heart.

Shimoda left the concentration camp alone and was one of the first to leave. Evacuees were not allowed to go back to the West Coast at first and Shimoda was informed by officials at Tule Lake that Chicago was receptive to Japanese-American re-settlers because Irish-American politicians there—being victims of discrimination themselves—understood the predicament of the evacuees. Shimoda lived in Chicago for several years and graduated with a degree in accounting from Northwestern University. He worked at the University of Chicago and taught a class in learning the Japanese language

He studied improvisational acting with the Compass Players, who sprung from the University of Chicago, a precursor of the Second City. Many Asian American actors as Beulah Quo, the co-founder of East West Players, with Mako Iwamatsu considered him to be an actor's actor, which she stated in the documentary Yuki Shimoda: Asian American Actor. Shimoda never married and did not have any children.


Shimoda's movie credits from the 1960s and 1970s range from B movies as Seven Women from Hell with Caesar Romero and Yvonne Craig to A movies as Midway with Charlton Heston, Eddie Albert, Henry Fonda, James Coburn, Glenn Ford, Toshirō Mifune, Robert Mitchum, Cliff Robertson, Robert Wagner, James Shigeta and Noriyuki "Pat" Morita. He also was in the martial arts movie The Octagon with Chuck Norris. In the Disney movie The Last Flight of Noah's Ark with Elliott Gould and Rick Schroder, Shimoda's character was one of two Japanese soldiers on a deserted Pacific island decades after the end of World War II who do not know the war is over.

Shimoda's favorite movie was Farewell to Manzanar, later bought by Walt Disney Pictures to televise on the Disney Channel. Farewell to Manzanar was a television movie that stars an all Japanese-American cast and presents the story of the relocation of Japanese Americans into American-style concentration camps. Shimoda appeared in MacArthur with Gregory Peck and in The Horizontal Lieutenant with Jim Hutton, Paula Prentiss, Jim Backus and Miyoshi Umeki.

Shimoda had numerous television credits. The miniseries A Town Like Alice was broadcast internationally and in the United States on Masterpiece Theatre. A Town Like Alice was the first non-British production to air in the United States on Masterpiece Theatre. In the television miniseries, The Immigrants Shimoda played the part of Chinese-American immigrant Feng Wo. He guest-starred on popular television shows of the 1960s and 1970s, such as Adventures in Paradise, The Big Valley, Hawaiian Eye, The Andy Griffith Show, McHale's Navy, Mr. Ed, Peter Gunn, Love American Style, Wonder Woman, Hawaii Five-O, Sanford and Son, M.A.S.H. and Quincy, M.E. On Quincy, M.E., Shimoda starred as Dr. Hiro, a forensic medical examiner in the episode "Has Anybody Here Seen Quincy?" that did not include star Jack Klugman. Shimoda was considered for a spin-off of Quincy, M.E., where he would be a coroner like Thomas Noguchi, the Los Angeles County coroner to many newsworthy deaths.

Shimoda filled in time between engagements with television commercial work, such as the Chrysler ad of the 1970s where Mr. T (Toyota) and Mr. D (Datsun – Nissan) admire a Dodge Colt and say "Very nice, Mr. D." "I thought it was one of yours, Mr. T."

Shimoda preferred to act as the honorable Japanese soldier or sailor like Dr. Matsumo, the good Japanese military physician, in Seven Women from Hell. This movie was released in 1961 and shows the humane side of the former enemy.

Shimoda's Broadway career started when he moved to New York City from Chicago to get more roles as an actor and dancer on stage. Ultimately he was hired as one of the early Asian-American actors on Broadway. From 1953 to 1956, Shimoda appeared in the Teahouse of the August Moon. Shimoda got his big break when he landed the part of Ito in the Broadway hit Auntie Mame. From 1956 to 1958, he starred opposite Rosalind Russell. After the play finished on Broadway, he recreated his role in the 1958 film.

His income from his acting career plus the knowledge he gained from the accounting degree he earned from Northwestern University allowed him to live a comfortable lifestyle. He devoted his free time to help young actors in the East West Players, a Los Angeles-based, Asian-American theatre group.


He died in Los Angeles of colon cancer that metastasized to his liver on May 21, 1981. He quit smoking cigarettes and social drinking of alcohol in his later years. Yuki Shimoda's ashes were originally in the Little Tokyo district of Los Angeles at the Nishihongwanji Buddhist Temple. They have been moved to Sacramento, California so his remains could rest with his family in their hometown.

A 30-minute documentary film of his life was made and released in 1985 by Visual Communications (VC) of Los Angeles: Yuki Shimoda: Asian American Actor. It includes clips of an interview with him before his passing.

Broadway stage credits



TV movies and mini-series

  • The Impatient Heart (TV movie) (1971)
  • Farewell to Manzanar (TV movie) (1976) as Ko Wakatsuki
  • And the Soul Shall Dance (TV movie) (1978) as Oka
  • A Death in Canaan (TV movie) (1978) as Dr Samura
  • The Immigrants (TV movie) (1978) as Feng Wo
  • A Town Like Alice (TV mini-series) (1981) as Sgt Mifune (final film role)

TV series

See also

  • http://www.thrillingdetective.com/midnight.html
  • Yuki Shimoda on IMDb Retrieved on 2008-02-05
  • http://www.vconline.org
  • http://www.eastwestplayers.org
  • http://www.tv.com/yuki-shimoda/person/39518/summary.html
  • "Yuki Shimoda". Find a Grave. Retrieved 2008-02-05.
  • Yuki imitating Carmen Miranda's "Mama Yo Quiero" while incarcerated in 1942 http://content.cdlib.org/ark:/13030/ft2t1nb12j/
  • Go for Broke - Home of Heroes http://www.homeofheroes.com/wallofhonor/nisei/index.html
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