Canadian actor Denis Akiyama died in Toronto, June 28, 2018.  He was as well known for his voice work for cartoons and video games as he was for his TV and movie appearances.  His best known roles were Shinji in Johnny Mnemonic, Toru Iwatani in Pixels, and the voice of Malachite in Sailor Moon.

Denis Akiyama, 1952 - 2018

Denis Akiyama (center) as Nakano in “12 Monkeys.” {image via Syfy}

Denis Akiyama’s first TV role was as a guest on the Canadian TV show For the Record in 1982.  His final role was as a regular on the Canadian mystery show Carter, playing Koji Yasuda.  In between, he performed in Canadian and U.S. television shows and movies, in addition to voicing characters for cartoons and video games, and performing on Broadway.

Akiyama’s voice work ranged from children’s cartoons to video games.  In the X-Men cartoons, he played Iceman and Sunfire.  In Silver Surfer, he was the voice of Watcher Prime. He was the voice of Malachite in Sailor Moon.  He performed in teen and adult video games like Rainbow 6 and Deus Ex and children’s cartoons like Scaredy Squirrel, Frannie’s Feet, and Little Bear.

His science fiction movie roles included Shinji in Johnny Mnemonic, Dr. Fong in Code Name Phoenix, Speaker Omaha in Cypher, the doctor in Repo Man, the Tech Leader on Space Truckers, and Toru Iwatani in Pixels. His most popular movie role was as Shinji, the assassin who fought Keanu Reeves in Johnny Mnemonic.

Denis Akiyama played Toru Iwatani in "Pixels." The real Prof. Iwatani played a cameo as a video game repairman.

Denis Akiyama played Professor Iwatani, the creator of Pac-Man, in “Pixels.” {image via Columbia}

In addition to co-starring in sitcoms like She’s the Sheriff, where he played Mr. Lee, Akiyama had roles in many SF/F shows.  He was Mr. Nakamora in Wingin’ It, Nakano in 12 Monkeys, Officer Ogawa in Warehouse 13, the Crown Attorney in ReGenesis, Akegi in Odyessey 5, and Colonel Chang in Relic Hunter, among other roles.

Akiyama’s work on stage included Miss Saigon on Broadway and in Toronto.  He also performed in Song for a Nisei Fisherman by Philip Kan Gotanda, M.J. Kang’s Dreams of Blonde & Blue, and Hiro Kanagawa’s The Tiger of Malaya, and Sally Han’s Naomi’s Road.

Denis Akiyama discussed the difference between acting on stage and acting in front of a camera in an interview with The Bulletin.

I actually started in film. There’s different technical things to consider in both mediums. It’s different playing to a camera versus playing to an audience ….

In theatre, you’ve got to get it right — the audience has paid money — and there’s no room for mistakes. You’re literally walking the performance tight-rope. Your preparation, and subsequently the development process, is very exacting, whereas in other mediums [film, TV], they can fix mistakes in the editing. The drive for perfection is great in theatre because between yourself and the other actors, there’s a number of things that can go wrong. That’s why the rehearsal period is so comparatively long in theatre.

Denis Akiyama was born in Toronto, May 28, 1952.  He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from York University.  He died June 28, 2018.  He is survived by his wife Danielle O’Connor Akiyama, his son Kintaro, and his daughter Miya, as well as his brother Barry.  His family has requested donations to the Canadian Cancer Society in lieu of flowers.

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