James Shigeta

James Shigeta

American film actor and singer of Asian descent.
Date of Birth: 17.06.1933
Country: USA

  1. James Shigeta: Breaking Hollywood Stereotypes
  2. From Singer to Actor
  3. A Multifaceted Career
  4. International Success
  5. A Diverse Portfolio

James Shigeta: Breaking Hollywood Stereotypes

James Shigeta was an American film actor and singer of Asian descent. He is considered the first Asian American actor to break the old Hollywood system and land leading roles as romantic heroes. Throughout his career, Shigeta was the brightest Asian American star, with his success fluctuating as the American interest in Eastern-themed films changed. However, whether playing the main roles in blockbuster hits or taking on modest roles in smaller television projects, Shigeta always showcased his talent and style. His final on-screen appearance was in the 2009 Canadian comedy 'The People I've Slept With'.

James Shigeta

From Singer to Actor

In the early stages of his career, Shigeta started as a singer and dancer or minor gangster in the background. However, by the late 1950s, he was being offered leading romantic roles, which was unthinkable according to the old studio bosses. One of his undeniable successes was the lead role in producer Ross Hunter's musical film 'Flower Drum Song' (1961), a brilliant adaptation of the Broadway musical by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. This success was followed by numerous supporting roles. Another significant turning point in Shigeta's career came thanks to Ross Hunter and his film 'Lost Horizon' (1973).

James Shigeta

A Multifaceted Career

Throughout his long and fruitful career, Shigeta portrayed a wide range of characters, convincingly playing both good guys and villains. He appeared in around 90 roles in films and television series over a span of 50 years. Notably, Shigeta was born on June 17, 1933, in Honolulu, Hawaii, and was one of six children in a family of a local contractor who had emigrated from Japan to Oahu. He studied at New York University, specializing in drama and English. During the Korean War, he served in the Marine Corps, fighting in Korea for two and a half years before returning home as a sergeant. Aside from English, Shigeta is fluent in Japanese, French, and Italian.

James Shigeta

International Success

Shigeta's talent caught attention when he won first prize on the talent show 'Original Amateur Hour.' His agent, envisioning a career as an entertainer, gave him the noble-sounding stage name Guy Brion, implying that Shigeta was an educated European. Under this pseudonym, James began performing in nightclubs, including iconic venues such as the 'Mocambo' and the 'Players Club' in Los Angeles. Despite achieving some success, he initially had little luck in the film industry. Interestingly, Shigeta did not speak Japanese until 'Toho Studios' from Tokyo offered him a career as a music star in Japan using his real name. He spent several years in Japan and achieved success in radio, television, theater, cinema, and the music industry. He was known as the 'Japanese Frank Sinatra.' In 1958, his tours in Australia were a huge success, and by 1959, he was ready to return to the United States, where he became a star on the most important musical stages and landed his first role in a Hollywood film, playing a detective in the crime drama 'The Crimson Kimono'.

A Diverse Portfolio

When the doors of American cinema opened to Shigeta, he began taking acting lessons. While it would be an exaggeration to say that no film or series involving Asian characters was complete without Shigeta, his acting career was undoubtedly rich. He played Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Tibetan characters, portraying police officers, criminals, diplomats, rebels, lawyers, doctors, kings, and laborers. In the 1998 animated film 'Mulan,' James Shigeta lent his voice to the character General Li. His list of works includes films such as 'Paradise, Hawaiian Style' (1966), 'The Yakuza' (1974), 'Midway' (1974), 'Die Hard' (1988), 'Midnight Man' (1994), 'Drive' (1997), 'Brother' (2000), and numerous TV series. In 1960, Shigeta won a Golden Globe Award.