San Francisco Chronicleの記事;

Mako -- actor, East West Players co-founder

Jocelyn Stewart, Los Angeles Times

Monday, July 24, 2006

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 a Chinese character 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 (Ventura County). He was 72.

Mako, the group's first artistic director, kept the theater afloat by paying the company's bills. He also taught acting classes.

In 1976, Mako appeared in the Stephen Sondheim musical "Pacific Overtures," playing multiple roles as reciter, shogun, emperor and an American businessman. Set in 1853, the play explores U.S. Commodore Matthew Perry's push to open Japan to foreign trade and visitors for the first time in 250 years.

The performance earned Mako a Tony Award nomination for best actor in a musical.

"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."

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.

He moved to California after serving two years in the military 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.

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" 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.

Mako used the prominence his Oscar nomination for "The Sand Pebbles" gave him to address the dearth of parts for Asian Americans. Unless a script specifically called for an Asian American, producers and casting directors rejected them.

"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."

The company's mission soon expanded to include training writers. "Unless our story is told to (other) people, it's hard for them to understand where we are," Mako said.