Radio Series Puts Mako in a New Medium


During his long and illustrious stage career, Mako has directed actors he knows well, and even some he knows exceedingly well--his family--in various theatrical ventures.


But directing those familiar actors and family members on radio, for KCRW-FM’s “Contemporary Japanese Short Stories” series, was a first for the veteran actor-director, who was born Makoto Iwamatsu in Japan.

An Oscar and Tony nominee, Mako, 60, had been well-known in theater and on film, but radio was a new medium. And a challenging one, Mako recounted in a telephone interview from his home in Somis, four miles north of Camarillo.


“Directing radio shows is really a new area for me,” he said. “The strangeness came from it being new and also from having all those family members in one place. . . . When we think of work, it’s usually outside the home, but this became like an extension of a family gathering.”

The family members Mako directed were his wife, Shizuko Hoshi; his sister, Momo Yashima Brannen, and his daughter, Mimosa Iwamatsu, all established actors in their own right. Sunday’s program on KCRW (89.9) featured readings by the three, directed by Mako.

The series, which began airing in July and continues into October, consists of 37 short works of 20th-Century Japanese fiction in English translation. The series of hourlong programs was funded by the California Arts Council and Japan’s Hoso-Bunka Foundation.

Subjects range from the bombing of Hiroshima to works of science fiction to stories about women, culture and religion.


Mako said he hopes the series will open people’s minds to similarities between cultures and foster a better understanding of the Asian American experience.

“By listening to this program, I think listeners will walk away with a three-dimensional understanding of universal problems,” he said. “Those of us who live here in this country--especially if we belong to identifiable ethnic groups, like blacks, Asian Americans or Mexicans--we’re constantly battling stereotypes, and one of the reasons I believe stereotypes continue to exist is because the majority of people don’t have enough information about us. So I thought (this series) would be very educational for people without having to attend a class or a seminar. All listeners have to do is turn on the radio and the information is given to them.”

Now that he’s tackled radio, Mako said he would like to take another stab at it. “I’d like to try other things to experiment and stimulate the listener’s mind,” he said. And in the future, Mako said, he would be ever-mindful of the tricks of the radio trade learned while directing the KCRW series.

“You have to stick to the range of the microphone,” he said. “You can’t be moving about. And if you do move about, you should not wear a leather jacket. The stupid thing squeaks like hell!”