I was scrolling through Clyde Kusatsu’s IMDb credits and thinking, “Yeah, he’s more a TV Hey It’s That Guy than a movie one.” And it’s certainly true that he’s done 235 TV shows—and it’s even true that he did multiple episodes of many of those shows, from five episodes of Kung Fu to two episodes of NCIS. However, he has also done 57 movies, from Airport 1975 to 47 Ronin. He’s done voice work and union work. He may be one of the most recognizable Asian-American faces in acting that doesn’t belong to George Takei. Even if most people can’t really think of anything right off that he’s done.
He has played a little bit of everything. Just on M*A*S*H, he played a captain, a sergeant, and a bartender. He seems to have played a lot of doctors and judges. A few teachers and principals. An admiral, on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Peking Man. Many, many police detectives. Both a minister and a god. A supervillain. A toy magnate. A cab driver and an attache. Even a sketch artist. And, of course, several walk-through characters!
Mostly what he seems to be used for is low-key characters with a quiet sense of humour. His bartender on M*A*S*H says dismissive things of Frank that he doesn’t catch, as I recall. Nakasumi-san in So the Drama speaks fluent English but enjoys whispering with his supposed translator. Anyway, that seems to be what he’s best at. I like him a lot, and I’d rather watch him in those roles than just about anything else—rather watch him in them than a lot of other people.
Of course, he, like many character actors of his generation, seems to have hit almost all the highlights of ’80s TV. His career is a bit sparse through the ’70s, so no Love Boat or Fantasy Island, but he hit the ’80s swinging with an episode of Hello, Larry. He did the obligatory soaps, with appearances on both Dallas and Dynasty. Knots Landing, too! Magnum and MacGuyver, Remington Steele and Murder, She Wrote. Who’s the Boss? and ALF. Even voice appearances on Jem and The Smurfs. Frankly, there isn’t much more ’80s a list than his, though I’ve seen some that equal. I am disappointed to report that he was never on Columbo.
By my count, he has also played six ethnicities, assuming we count all Chinese characters as the same one (including Peking Man) and don’t count Just Sort Of Americans. (He’s even played guys with names like “Frank Fenton” and “Ken Callahan.”) Now, this is based on the assumption that voicing Hanuman counts as playing an Indian character and that the character he played named Tensing is supposed to be Nepalese. Still. Even leaving that aside, my knowledge of Asian last names demonstrates to me that he’s played characters who are Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese. (He actually played a guy named Ken Watanabe on an episode of Lou Grant!) I don’t know how I feel about this; I’ve read about Asian actors who think it’s no different than an English person playing a German character, and I suppose I’m mostly just angry because Clyde Kusatsu is one of the biggest Hey It’s That Guys in the business and barely had a chance for roles beyond those, because they simply aren’t written for Asian-American actors.
It probably took me five or ten minutes to scroll through playing “count the ethnicity.” Pay me back for my time by supporting my Patreon!