Denis Akiyama, a Toronto actor who played foe to Keanu Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic, starred on Broadway in Miss Saigon and voiced an array of animated TV series, has died at 66.
His son, Kintaro Akiyama, confirmed the actor’s passing on Thursday.
Akiyama built a career working extensively in the Canadian film and TV industry with early roles in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers and guest appearances on CBC-TV series Street Legal.
R.I.P Denis Akiyama 😥 We lost another one way 2 soon. Terrific actor and an even better person. My condolences to the Akiyama family. ❤🙏🏽 <a href=”https://t.co/weksPMpjXp”>pic.twitter.com/weksPMpjXp</a>
His profile rose when he starred as Shinji, the laser-whip wielding Yakuza villain who chases down Reeves’ Johnny Mnemonic in an attempt to extract the data package stored in his head. The high-profile film was Reeves’ follow-up to the blockbuster smash Speed.
Akiyama went onto star in numerous other Hollywood movies filmed in the Toronto area, including Resident Evil: Afterlife and Repo Men.
He also played a role in Adam Sandler’s 2015 comedy Pixels as Toru Iwatani, the real-life designer of the Pac-Man video game, where he unsuccessfully attempts to stop the giant video game character from devouring the city.
His roles weren’t limited to the screen though, as he added another layer to his career in the recording booth where he voiced a number of popular animated series. Among them, he played Silver Samurai in the 1990s version of X-Men and villain Malachite on Sailor Moon.
Denis Akiyama passed away this morning. He was an incredibly talented, funny, and generous man. And he was someone we all looked up to as a pioneering Asian Canadian actor. My condolences to his family. We’ll miss you, Denis. <a href=”https://t.co/htOHj7QOFt”>pic.twitter.com/htOHj7QOFt</a>
Akiyama also forged a presence on theatre stages, where he performed in both the Toronto and Broadway productions of Miss Saigon, as well as Sally Han’s Naomi’s Road and Hiro Kanagawa’s The Tiger of Malaya.
Longtime friend Tony Duggan-Smith, who met Akiyama in the early 1980s before his acting career got off the ground, said he was a man of great philosophical depth.
“He was a soulful guy that was going through life doing things that interested him,” Duggan-Smith said.
“He was such a natural that it’s not surprising many people felt really strongly about him.”
Rest In Peace Denis Akiyama. A true inspiration, one of the first and truly pioneering Asian Canadian performers, versatile in theatre, film, television and voice. Always a pleasure to run into and catch up with, just a lovely man. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/FuckCancer?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#FuckCancer</a> <a href=”https://t.co/cLxPunUG2H”>pic.twitter.com/cLxPunUG2H</a>
‘A true inspiration’
Friends, fans and colleagues from the film, theatre, animation and video game communities have been paying to the pioneering Asian-Canadian performer on social media.
“A true inspiration, one of the first and truly pioneering Asian Canadian performers, versatile in theatre, film, television and voice,” Toronto theatre producer Derrick Chua noted on Twitter.
“The Asian Canadian acting community lost a giant,” wrote Kim’s Convenience star Paul Sun-Hyung Lee.
“RIP Denis Akiyama. You were always someone I looked up to as an actor, father, husband and human being.”