Masao Mike Kawaguchi (1916-1999)
The youngest of eleven children, Masao Mike Kawaguch was born in Seattle, Washington in 1916 to Shimakichi and Kume Kawaguchi. His mother, who was ill, took him as a baby to live with her family in Japan. He returned at age nine to Seattle. After graduating from high school in Sunnydale in 1937, he moved to Los Angeles to study animation at Shenard Art School, which was partly run by the Disney Studios.
Kawaguchi got a job with the Disney Studios and worked there from 1939 until he was drafted into the U.S. Army in October 1941 just two months before the start of World War II. He served with the 552nd Field Artillery Battalion of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Italy, France and Germany. He was later stationed in the Pacific theater of the war as a Military Intelligence Officer (MIS), serving in Guam and Iwo Jima.
Before being deployed overseas, Kawaguchi spent his army furloughs visiting members of his family who were incarcerated in Minidoka in Idaho and Heart Mountain in Wyoming. Kawaguchi drew and painted pictures of his family and other incarcerated people in their daily routines. A unique painting he did while visiting Minidoka was of the surrounding area outside the barbed wire enclosure as he approached the incarceration camp.
After Kawaguchi’s discharge from the army in 1945 he returned to Los Angeles and was able to get his job back at the Disney Studios because he was an army veteran. The film Bambi was one of many he worked on. He later worked for the animation studios of Hanna Barbera where he was involved with the animations, story board and backgrounds for the filming of such TV series as “The Flintstones,” “The Jetsons,” “The Smurfs,” and “Scooby Doo.”
Mike Kawaguchi was married to “the love of his life,” Helen, and they had two children, Cindy and Nick, and three grandsons.