Actor James Shigeta, who appeared in such films as Flower Drum Song (1961) and Die Hard (1988) and appeared frequently on television from the Fifties to the Naughts, died yesterday at the age of 81.
James Shigeta was born in Honolulu, Hawaii (then a United States territory) on 17 June 1933. He studied acting at New York City University before enlisting in the United States Marines during the Korean War. During his two and a half years service he entertained the troops and rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant. Following the war he won first prize on the talent TV show The Original Amateur Hour. He then launched a singing career under the name "Guy Brion", performing in clubs throughout the United States.
James Shigeta was then signed a contract with Toho Studios in Japan, despite the fact that he knew no Japanese. There he developed a very successful singing career that included appearing in Tokyo's Nichigeki Theatre's Cherry Blossom Show. James Shigeta performed with The Cherry Blossom Show when it was staged at the Empire Theatre in Australia. It was a huge success there. James Shigeta returned to the United States where he appeared in various stage productions and sang on The Dinah Shore Chevy Show.
James Shigeta made his film debut in The Crimson Kimono in 1959, playing Detective Joe Kojaku. The following year he appeared in Walk Like a Dragon (1960). His most notable role in the Sixties was probably that of Wang Ta in Flower Drum Song (1961). During the Sixties he also appeared in such films as Cry for Happy (1961), Bridge to the Sun (1961), 3 pistole contro Cesare (1966), Paradise, Hawaiian Style (1966), The Mystery of the Chinese Junk (1967), Manila, Open City (1968), and Nobody's Perfect (1968). He made his television debut as an actor on an episode of Alcoa Premiere. Throughout the Sixties he appeared on such shows as Naked City, Dr. Kildare, Burke's Law, The Outer Limits, Perry Mason, Ben Casey, I Spy, Hawaii Five-O, Ironside, and Mission: Impossible. He had a recurring role on the show Medical Centre.
In the Seventies Mr. Shigeta appeared on such TV shows as Emergency!, Kung Fu, Matt Helm, Ellery Queen, S.W.A.T., The Streets of San Francisco, Little House on the Prairie, Police Woman, The Rockford Files, and Fantasy Island. He appeared in the films Lost Horizon (1973), The Yakuza (1974), and Midway (1976).
In the Eighties James Shigeta appeared as Nakatomi executive Joseph Takagi in Die Hard. He also appeared in the film Cage (1989). He appeared on such TV shows as The Greatest American Hero, T. J. Hooker, The Love Boat, Airwolf, Magnum P. I., Jake and the Fatman, and Murder She Wrote. In the Nineties he appeared on such shows as SeaQuest 2032, Babylon 5, Cybill, and Beverly Hills, 90210. He appeared in the films Cage II (1994), Midnight Man (1995), Space Marines (1996), Drive (1997), and Brother (2000). He provided the voice of General Li in Mulan (1998). In the Naughts he appeared in the films A Ribbon of Dreams (2002) and The People I've Slept With (2009). He appeared on the TV show Threat Matrix and provided a voice in one episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender.
With the looks of a matinee idol and considerable talent as both an actor and a singer, James Shigeta might well have been a major star had he been born in a later era. Unfortunately, in the Sixties and Seventies roles for Japanese Americans were even rarer than they are now. Regardless, Mr. Shigeta had a very impressive career. He appeared in such major motion pictures as The Crimson Kimono, Flower Drum Song, and Die Hard, and he appeared frequently on television. What is more he played a wide variety of roles, everything from master criminals to military officers to medical doctors to corporate executives. And he played all of them well. In a career that spanned nearly five decades. James Shigeta left behind a most impressive list of credits.