James Shigeta

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Hawaiian-born James Saburo Shigeta was, for a time, the biggest East Asian U.S. star the country had known for decades. His up-and-down career reflected the country's changing interest in films with East Asian themes, but, when called upon, he filled both A-movie starring roles and minor T.V. guest appearances with the same cool and classy style. An aspiring song-and-dance man early in his career, he had a series of romantic leading roles in the late fifties, culminating in his most important one, the lead in Ross Hunter's glitzy production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's musical, Flower Drum Song (1961). Supporting parts followed, his last showy turn coming again from Ross Hunter, with star billing and his own production number in the ill-fated musical remake of Lost Horizon (1973). Along the way, there have been many notable T.V. guest appearances showcasing Shigeta's facility with both sympathetic and villainous roles. His status as the foremost East Asian leading man of twentieth century U.S. film will endure undiminished by an erratic career.

Born June 17, 1929 in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii, USA Died July 28, 2014 in Beverly Hills, California, USA (pulmonary failure)


  • He was educated at New York University where he majored in English.
  • Speaks fluent Japanese, French and Italian.
  • The first Asian-American to crack the old Hollywood studio star system, albeit briefly, groomed as a romantic leading man.
  • Enlisted in the Marine Corps at the beginning of the Korean War. He rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant.
  • On April 18, 2005, he was awarded a Visionary Award from East West Players, the nation's premier Asian American theatre organization.
  • Chosen by Goldsea Asian American Daily as one of the "100 Most Inspiring Asian Americans of All Time".
  • Upon his death, he was laid to rest at National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, Honolulu, Hawaii, Plot: Section C12TT, Row 300, Site 312.

Notable Appearances

  • Flower Drum Song (Movie) (1961) as Wang Ta
  • Butterfly (Mission: Impossible) (1970) as Shiki
  • Medical Center (TV Series) (1969-1973) as Doctor Osaka
  • The Yakusa (Movie) (1974) as Goro
  • Samurai (TV Movie) (1979) as Takeo Chisato
  • The Love Boat (TV Series) (1983)
    • Japan Cruise: When Worlds Collide/The Captain and the Geisha/The Lottery Winners/The Emperor's Fortune: Part 2 (1983) ... Bud's Father
  • Simon & Simon (TV Series) 1984-1988
    • Tale of the Tiger (1988) as Chen
    • Opposites Attack (1987) as Musashi Sato
    • Revolution #9-1/2 (1984) as Daniel Yoshiro