|Died||June 19 1988|
|Birth Location||Mito, Japan|
Hollywood character actor most famous for portraying a villain in the James Bond movie You Only Live Twice .
Early Life and Career
He was born in Mito, Japan, as Akira Shimada. Entranced with film as a child, he decided to become a film actor. He arrived in San Francisco in March 1924 on a student visa and remained in the United States (technically as an illegal alien) after leaving college. In the following years, he moved to Los Angeles, where he supported himself in various jobs while studying acting in the studio of Katherine Hamill. In December 1930, he starred under the name of Teru Shimada in a student production of The Flower of Eddo , a one-act play about Japan, and the following year performed scenes from Melchior Lengyel's play The Typhoon with his classmates. Both times, the headshot photo of the "talented young student" was featured in The Los Angeles Times —a tribute to his remarkable good looks as well as his acting.
Shimada first broke into films with a brief role in The Nightclub Lady (1932). Shortly afterward, he played a "sakai" native in Cecil B. DeMille's Pacific Island epic, Four Frightened People . After his work with DeMille, Shimada was hired for numerous extra roles and bit parts, mainly uncredited, as houseboys and valets. In 1935, he played a small role in Oil for the Lamps of China . Director Mervyn LeRoy publicly stated that the young Japanese actor could read lines with more expression than many Hollywood stars. In 1936, Shimada played his first serious part, in the independently produced film White Legion . The film dramatizes the adventures of a group of heroic doctors who travel to Panama in 1905 in search of a cure for yellow fever. Shimada's character Dr. Nogi (clearly inspired by the celebrated bacteriologist Hideyo Noguchi) heroically sacrifices his life to save others. Shimada's last prewar role of importance was in the 1939 thriller Mr. Moto's Last Warning , in which his character substitutes for the eponymous Japanese spy (played by Peter Lorre) and is led away to his doom by Moto's enemies.
Following Executive Order 9066 , Shimada was caught up in the mass removal of Japanese Americans. In May 1942, he was removed to the Poston WRA camp. Still only in his mid-thirties and fluent in English, Shimada was a rare figure among the Issei in camp. Because of his experience as an actor, he was named production manager of a Nisei drama group, the Poston Drama Guild. The Guild performed in mess halls, putting on skits and comic sketches of camp life, including "Coming to Boilton" and "The Blockhead's Nightmare." In fall 1942, the Guild announced a forthcoming original three-act comedy, "Postonese," depicting life in camp, to be written and directed by Shimada and his fellow Hollywood actor Wilfred Horiuchi.
Shimada took over an entire barrack and his team began transforming it into a theater for the dramatic department. In early 1943, after it was nearly completed, a fire broke out and destroyed the stage and seats. Stunned and distraught by the loss, Shimada turned his attention to athletics. After gaining a certificate from the American Red Cross that authorized him to give classes in swimming and lifeguard training, he helped organize a "build a pool" project, with a group of volunteers to dig a pool and build surrounding shaded areas. The new pool turned out to be wildly popular. Over the next months, Shimada supervised nineteen lifeguards who held swimming classes and water carnivals and assisted thousands of Nisei swimmers. At the request of John W. Powell, chief of Poston's community management division, Shimada was officially appointed Unit I community activities coordinator. "Mr. Shimada's proven leadership of the younger men, and his sympathetic understanding of the needs and interests of the older people, will be of great value to the enjoyment and harmony of the residents of Unit I," Powell told the Poston News-Chronicle . In February 1945, Shimada's residence block elected him as a block leader , and he resigned his other positions.
Shimada was released from Poston in September 1945. Because of difficulties in finding employment in Hollywood, he instead settled in New York, where he took up residence at the Cherrie Lane Theatre. After several weeks, he was cast in The First Wife , a drama that Nobel laureate Pearl S. Buck adapted from her own novel. It was performed by The Chinese Theatre, a troupe of Chinese actors that Buck sponsored. (To obscure Shimada's Japanese origins, he was billed under the Chinese name Shi Ma-Da). After a run in New York, he joined the show for an extended tour of the United States, and remained with the production for two years.
Postwar Acting Career
In 1949, Shimada returned to Hollywood and made Tokyo Joe , his first film in ten years. In the film, set in occupation-era Tokyo, Shimada played Ito, an old friend and business partner of Humphrey Bogart's character Joe Barret. In one scene, the two have a friendly judo match, and Ito succeeds in flooring his opponent. Shimada later stated that Tokyo Joe had been his most enjoyable film experience, as even people who did not know his name recognized him as the man who had licked Humphrey Bogart!
Shimada's performance in Tokyo Joe led to a revival of his career in Hollywood. Soon after, he was cast as a brutal Japanese officer in Fox's Three Came Home and a villainous captain of a Chinese junk in Smuggler's Island . He also appeared in The Bridges of Toko-Ri and The Snow Creature . Shimada played a Korean official in Battle Hymn (1957). He was accorded costar status in the low budget feature The Battle of the Coral Sea (1959). In it he plays Commander Mori, a Japanese naval officer of integrity who is tasked with interrogating his American prisoners. A more positive role for Shimada was in independent producer Sam Fuller's 1959 drama Tokyo After Dark .
In addition to his film roles, Shimada worked steadily in TV dramas during the 1950s. One significant role came in 1956 as the lead in a Du Pont Cavalcade Theatre program, "Call Home the Heart." The program told the real-life story of Kotaro Suto, an Issei gardener in Florida who did much of the planting and planning for Miami Beach. The same year, he appeared in the Telephone Time episode "Timebomb" as a sympathetic Japanese army officer in wartime Shanghai. In the 1957 telefilm "A Boy Named Miki," where he costarred with Lane Nakano, Shimada portrayed a judge of the Supreme Court of Japan who opposed war. After the Pacific War breaks out, the judge gives his son Mikio a samurai sword which is symbolically chained so that the sword cannot be removed. In 1959, he played a Japanese officer lost in the jungles of New Guinea in the television film Prisoner , starring Steve Canyon. During the same period, he starred in two episodes of the anthology series The Loretta Young Show .
During the 1960s, Shimada worked primarily in guest spots on television series such as Hong Kong , The Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour and Have Gun, Will Travel . He also did small parts in a few notable films. He portrayed a Japanese general in the 1965 film King Rat , and a Tokyo landlord in the 1966 drama Walk, Don't Run .
In early 1967, Shimada won the role for which he would be best known, that of Mr. Osato in the James Bond film You Only Live Twice . Mr. Osato, a wealthy and well-respected Japanese businessman, runs Osato Chemicals, a chemical and engineering company that is in fact a front for the international crime syndicate SPECTRE. When James Bond (Sean Connery) comes to see him, Osato politely warns him, "You should give up smoking. Cigarettes are very bad for your chest." Mr. Osato wishes Bond well as he departs his office, then waits a few seconds, turns to his "Confidential Secretary" Helga Brandt (Karin Dor) and utters the succinct icy command: "Kill him!" Shooting took place in Japan, and Shimada returned to his homeland for the first time in nearly fifty years. Shimada received considerable positive media attention for his role. His newfound visibility led studio publicists to invent stories that he was working as a studio janitor when he was discovered especially for the film, but such inventions were rapidly debunked.
In the early 1970s, Shimada appeared on a number of episodes of popular television series, and then retired. In later years, he lived in Encino, where he operated an apartment house.
For More Information
Robinson, Greg. The Unsung Great: Stories of Extraordinary Japanese Americans . Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2020.
" Nisei and the Films: Home to Hollywood ." Pacific Citizen , Dec. 24, 1949, 19, 22.
Last updated Sept. 4, 2020, 2:47 a.m..