James Saito appears in Ang Lee’s critically acclaimed “Life of Pi,” now playing in theaters.
Based on the best-selling novel by Yann Martel, the movie is about Pi Patel (Suraj Sharma), a zookeeper’s son who grows up in Pondicherry, India. His family decides to move to Canada and boards a Japanese freighter, taking the animals with them. When the ship sinks during a storm, Pi and some of the animals manage to get into a lifeboat. Pi and a Bengal tiger named Richard Parker end up as the sole survivors, stranded in the middle of the Pacific for 227 days.
Toward the end of the film, after Pi is washed ashore in Mexico and is hospitalized, he is interviewed by two insurance investigators from Japan (Saito and Jun Naito) who demand to know how the ship sank and have trouble believing Pi’s story.
The cast includes Irrfan Khan as the adult Pi, Adil Hussain and Tabu as Pi’s parents, Rafe Spall as a writer interviewing Pi, and Gerard Depardieu as the ship’s cook.
A native of Los Angeles and a graduate of Alexander Hamilton High School, Saito has numerous stage, film and television credits. He appeared in a number of plays at L.A.’s East West Players and on Broadway in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “The King and I” and David Henry Hwang’s “Golden Child.”
He won an Obie Award for his role in Julia Cho’s “Durango” at The Public Theater in New York and recently starred off-Broadway in National Asian American Theatre Company’s production of “A Number,” Caryl Churchill’s play about human cloning and identity.
On TV, Saito was a series regular as Dr. Chen on the ABC drama “Eli Stone” and had a recurring role as judge Lee on the soap opera “One Life to Live.” He has guest-starred on such shows as “Person of Interest,” “30 Rock,” “Blue Bloods,” “Rubicon,” “As the World Turns,” “Third Watch,” and “Law & Order: Criminal Intent.”
In the 1976 NBC-TV movie “Farewell to Manzanar,” based on Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s book, Saito was part of the mostly Japanese American cast. His TV credits from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s include “Lou Grant,” “The Waltons,” “M*A*S*H,” “The Incredible Hulk,” “MacGyver,” “Miami Vice,” “Bosom Buddies,” “Knots Landing,” “Charles in Charge,” “T.J. Hooker,” “Airwolf,” “The A-Team,” “Hill Street Blues,” “Star Trek: Voyager,” and “Sex and the City.”
On the big screen, Saito has appeared in such films as “I Think I Love My Wife,” “Robot Stories,” “Pearl Harbor,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Home Alone 3,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance,” “The Devil’s Advocate,” “Henry Fool,” and “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (as The Shredder). According to IMDB, he played the title character’s father in “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension,” but his scenes were deleted.
In November 2011, Saito unknowingly appeared on a segment of “Inside Edition” in which wallets containing $100 and a business card were “lost” at various New York locations to see if anyone who found a wallet would attempt to find the owner. Saito was one of the few who did.
Naito, who plays the younger insurance investigator, has appeared in NBC’s “30 Rock” and several independent films, including “Subject 47,” “Mega Man,” “Eat Me,” and “8 Days Later.”