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James Shigeta: Asian Menswear Spotlight Series


James Saburo Shigeta was an American actor, singer, and musician of Japanese descent. For a time, he was the biggest Asian-American star, bringing dignity & stature to his movie characters. He was known for his groundbreaking roles as the romantic lead which was rare for an Asian male actor in Hollywood. 

⁣He was born on June 17, 1929, in Hawaii, US. Shigeta studied drama at New York University & majored in English. Shigeta first discovered he wanted to become a singer after winning a talent competition. He started to sing at nightclubs in the US, before enlisting in the Marine Corps during the Korean War. He served for two and a half years, singing to the troops & rising to the rank of staff sergeant.⁣
⁣Shigeta then left Korea after serving and went to Japan to continue his singing career. In Japan, he became a success by singing on the radio & television. From this, he became known as the Frank Sinatra of Japan.⁣
⁣Shigeta's acting career started with his debut in the movie The Crimson Kimono, a detective story in 1959. He played as the Japanese detective Kojaku, who was involve in an interracial romantic triangle between him, his partner Sgt. Charlie and Christine Downes. Shigeta's role in the movie was somewhat groundbreaking in the 1950s as he was an Asian playing an Asian character rather than a non-Asian playing it.⁣
Shigeta was then cast in other films such as Walk Like a Dragon 1960, and the 1961 film Bridge to the Sun. In 1960, James Shigeta shared the Golden Globe Award for the Most Promising Male Newcomer with actors George Hamilton, Troy Donahue, & Barry Coe. Even with his excellent performances, the chance of Shigeta casting an important role initially written for a white actor was low. ⁣

He then continued starring in films, as well as singing for some of them. His most memorable role was in the action movie Die Hard (1988), in which he played as an executive, Joe Takagi, who was shot by a German Terrorist.⁣

In 2005, Shigeta received a Visionary Award from the Asian-American theater organization. In 2006, he got interviewed in the documentary The Slanted Screen about the representation of Asian men in Hollywood. He passed away on July 28, 2014.