James Shigeta


This collection takes a look at the film career of James Shigeta. James Shigeta is not just an Asian American actor, he is a leading man. During a time when Asian characters were still depicted in "yellow face", Shigeta broke ground as the star in films like "The Crimson Kimono" (1959), "Bridge to the Sun" (1961), and "Flower Drum Song" (1961). He not only took top billing, but he also heated up the silver screen by sharing on-screen kisses with his leading ladies. Born in Hawaii on June 17, 1933, Shigeta starred in over 20 films and made numerous television guest appearances in a career spanning nearly five decades. Other notable films Shigeta has worked on include "Paradise, Hawaiian Style" (1966) with Elvis Presley, "Midway" (1976), and "Die Hard" (1988).

Slides in this album 

James Shigeta's Hollywood Debut is a Breakthrough Role

James Shigeta was born on June 17, 1933 in Hawaii.

In his first film, James Shigeta plays Detective Joe Kojaku in this film noir mystery directed by Samuel Fuller. While on a case in Little Tokyo, Kojaku and his partner--and best friend from when they served in the war together …

"The Crimson Kimono" 1
Contributed by: bokinaka

Shigeta Heats Up the Silver Screen

The significance of Shigeta's role is that he not only plays a leading man, but he is also a romantic lead. Shigeta shares an on-screen kiss with a Caucasian woman during an era when interracial couples were not widely accepted. Sadly, in the nearly 50 years since the release of …

"The Crimson Kimono" 2
Contributed by: bokinaka

A Big Year

1961 was a big year for the 27 year old actor. He would star in three motion pictures in one year. "Cry for Happy," "Bridge to the Sun," and "Flower Drum Song."

Here, in the comedy "Cry for Happy" (1961), James Shigeta plays an American sailor in postwar Japan. The …

"Cry for Happy" 1
Contributed by: bokinaka

The Occupation Service Comedies

The late 50s and early 60s saw a number of films centered on the postwar occupation of Japan, like "Cry for Happy". These were not war movies, but comedies or love stories, and in many cases both.

Other notable Occupation-themed films are "The Teahouse of the August Moon" and "Sayonara" …

"Cry for Happy" 2
Contributed by: bokinaka

Geisha Hollywood

In "Cry for Happy" (1961), American sailors use a Tokyo "geisha house" as a base of operations for their various schemes.

Hollywood popularized the idea of geisha as kimono-wearing women of pleasure when in reality they were professional entertainers who did not engage in paid sex with their clients.

"Cry for Happy" 3
Contributed by: bokinaka

Based on a True Story

"Bridge to the Sun" is a 1961 film, directed by Etienne Périer, starring Carroll Baker and James Shigeta.

The film is based on the 1957 autobiography "Bridge To The Sun" by Gwendolen Terasaki, which detailed events in an American woman's life and marriage to a Japanese diplomat during wartime Japan.

"Bridge to the Sun" 1
Contributed by: bokinaka

A Diplomat in Time of War

The real diplomat portrayed by Shigeta, Hidenari Terasaki, was the First Secretary at the Japanese Embassy in Washington D.C. when Pearl Harbor was attacked. He was on the staff that translated the Japanese declaration of war, but failed to deliver the document before the attack. The family was interred briefly …

"Bridge to the Sun" 2
Contributed by: bokinaka

Love Knows No Boundaries

This love story is centered around an interracial marriage. "Bridge to the Sun" reaffirmed Shigeta's status as a romantic lead.

"Bridge to the Sun" 3
Contributed by: bokinaka

Song and Dance Man

Before becoming a leading man, Shigeta got his start in showbiz as a singer. Shigeta gets a chance to display his vocal talents alongside Nancy Kwan in Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Flower Drum Song" (1961). James Shigeta is best known for this film.

"Flower Drum Song"
Contributed by: bokinaka

Hanging with Elvis

James Shigeta plays Elvis Presley's sidekick in "Paradise, Hawaiian Style" (1966).

By now, the United States was engaged in the Vietnam War and Asian men in Hollywood were no longer seen as leading men, but as the enemy.

"Paradise, Hawaiian Style" 1
Contributed by: bokinaka

Actor's Paradise?

Although leading man roles for Shigeta became hard to come by, he would continue to act regularly for the next three decades, mostly with guest appearances on episodic television series.

"Paradise, Hawaiian Style" 2
Contributed by: bokinaka

"Midway" into His Career

Later in his career, Shigeta played a Japanese admiral, corporate businessmen and the occasional Asian villain. Recently, he has done voice over work in animations like "Mulan" and "Avatar: The Last Airbender".

"Midway" 1
Contributed by: bokinaka

Mapping Out an Actor's Career

In this scene from "Midway" (1976), Shigeta makes battle plans with Robert Ito and Pat Morita.

James Shigeta's early work made him a true trailblazer for positive representation of Asians in film. His headlining roles dried up not because he couldn't act, but because the studios stopped looking for Asian …

"Midway" 2
Contributed by: bokinaka

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bokinaka — Last modified Jun 28 2021 1:49 a.m.

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