Shigeta's Presence at the SFIAAFF

Chi-Hui Yang March 15, 2006

When the 2006 San Francisco International Asian American Film Festival decided to pay tribute to a Hollywood icon James Shigeta, we found Shigeta, the star of “Flower Drum Song,” “The Crimson Kimono,” and “Walk Like a Dragon,” was not only an actor truly ahead of his time, commanding complex and nuanced roles during a time when Asian American leading men were unheard of, but also found that Shigeta’s impact on American and Asian American cinema is so vast that he was at the center of a fascinating web of interconnections between many of festival’s films this year.

Shigeta was the star of James Clavell’s 1960 East-meets-Western, “Walk Like a Dragon,” in which he plays a Chinese coolie who challenges Jack Lord to a duel.

His co-star was the luminous Japanese Canadian actress, Nobu McCarthy, in one of her first roles. The late McCarthy would go on to make dozens more films, and this year the festival presents the US premiere of her last performance, as a Japanese Brazilian woman in Tizuka Yamasaki’s “Gaijin 2: Love Me as I Am.”

Shigeta’s path would cross with many other great Asian American actors over the years, including Sab Shimono, whom he co-starred with in the 1976 naval drama “Midway.” Sab stars this year in the Festival’s Opening Night film “Americanese,” directed by Eric Byler. The film also features Joan Chen and Chris Tashima.

It would also be in “Midway” that Shigeta would share the screen with another legendary Japanese American actor, Pat Morita, who passed away in 2005. Morita’s life is celebrated at the Festival with a screening of “Karate Kid Part II” (interestingly, which featured the first performance by actress Tamlyn Tomita, who also appears in “Gaijin 2.”) Morita, in two of his final performances, also appears in two other Festival films, Lane Nishikawa’s “Only the Brave,” and Frank Lin’s “American Fusion.”