In Memoriam: Mako

I froze when I saw the subject line of Frank Chin’s e-mail. This sad news speaks for itself:


Mako died today at his home in Somis, in Ventura County. He was known by his first name only, and used his mother’s surname Iwamatsu. His sister Momo Yashima was with him when he breathed his last. Neither he nor his wife Susie wants a funeral or a memorial, or any kind of service. He was the son of activist anti-militarist painters Taro Yashima and Mitsu Iwamatsu, who fled Japan before WWII. Mako was a sickly child and left with his grandparents in Japan. The story of Taro reunitijng with Mako after the war is told in Taro Yashima’s “picture book,” HORIZON IS CALLING.

Actors who worked with him and those who were trained by him or worked under his direction who feel him in their work may want to get together and get roaring drunk. I don’t know. He spoke at Steve McQueen’s passing, the star of THE SAND PEBBLES, Mako’s first movie that won him an Oscar nomination. I had mixed feelings about RISING SUN with Sean Connery and Wesley Snipes, but saw this as one of Mako’s best, most textured performances. He wasn’t a bad guy or the butt of a joke. He played an executive of a corporation who loved golf. Perhaps because of his love of golf, he was very good.

If anyone out there wants a Mako film fest and get drunk, be sure to let me know. Asian-American art and culture has lost an inspiration to writers and actors, and art may have lost the only Asian with guts enough to put his talent where his vision is. He was an Asian American who could rough and tumble instead crawl and bat their eyes. This bottle is for you, Mako.

— Frank Chin

Mako believed in our film project on the resisters and lent his name to our fundraising efforts. He graciously provided the voice of the “resister singing in jail” that is heard in our film. He was proud of the connection he made about the song that should accompany the handwritten verses of “Song of Cheyenne,” which we found preserved in the wallet of resister James Kado.

Mako championed the language and dialogue of John Okada’s No-No Boy as the authentic speech of postwar Nisei he wanted to hear more of in American film. In the movie about the resisters, I always wanted him to play Guntaro Kubota, the Issei leader who risked his freedom to help the young boys fight unfair conscription from camp.

He will be deeply missed.

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