In addition to being a kind of shark and the source of materia in Final Fantasy VII, Mako was a Japanese-American actor you've probably enjoyed but never heard of. His real name was Mako Iwamatsu, and he was born in Kobe in 1933. He grew up with relatives in Japan during World War II, while his parents were working for the War Department in Washington, D.C. After the war, his parents were given permanent resident status, so he crossed the pond and studied architecture in New York City.

Mako didn't start acting until the fifties, when he joined the United States Army and began doing stage shows for fun. When he left the army, he enrolled at Pasadena Community Playhouse and began his dramatic career. At first, this was confined to bit roles on "McHale's Navy," but he eventually made it to Hollywood and to Broadway, and co-founded the LA-based East-West Players.

His first major screen role was in 1966, when he played a coolie in The Sand Pebbles and was nominated for the Academy Award and Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor. That was his only Oscar, but his career was just warming up. He went on to appear in The Great Bank Robbery, The Bushido Blade, Conan the Barbarian, and Behind Enemy Lines. In the past two decades, he has found a niche as the Evil Elder Asian Tycoon, and played that role brilliantly in Taking Care of Business, Robocop 3, and Rising Sun. His biggest role was playing Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku in Pearl Harbor, and he made a more authentic-looking Yamamoto than any other rendition I've ever seen.

Mako also did a bit of voice acting, narrating the credits of "Dexter's Laboratory," and voicing the villain Aku in "Samurai Jack" and Uncle Iroh in "Avatar: The Last Airbender."

Mako died on July 21, 2006, leaving behind a wife, two children, a black belt in karate and a star on the Walk of Fame.

thanks to teknomage for contributing

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