In many respects, other than say maybe Yoda, Mr. Miyagi, the character played in the 1984 film The Karate Kid by character actor Pat Morita, was my first Hollywood movie character-mentor that I could identify and look up to in literal awe of his wisdom, power, compassion and ability – as well as his flaws.
His character and his character’s relationship with Daniel spoke true to me of my own relationship with my father. Being an adopted Caucasian with a Korean father and a Caucasian mother, with my Dad being born before the outbreak of World War II and suffering under the Japanese and then having his family broken apart by the Korean War, with some stuck in the north, some in the south – I could relate to the images of Mr. Miyagi being torn between the losses in his own life, and I could understand why from time to time my Dad would drink to, to forget the pain and the sorrow that the atrocities of war can bring. The scene where he has his birthday and is drinking and singing had a hollow sadness and happiness at the same time for me as a kid, even if I didn’t completely understand the many themes and ideas that were running through that scene as I do now.
Someone on another form perfectly described how Mr. Miyagi was “Not just a Sensei to Daniel-san… but to all of us really…”
Looking back at the trilogy, the first film stands the test of time fairly well given its embodiment of the hero’s journey for a young teenager, who at that time was perhaps not much older than me, with whom I could relate to as an 8 or 9-year-old kid who didn’t always get along with everyone else in elementary school. The 2nd 1986 film wasn’t that bad either, and the 3rd was more mindless fun than anything else, playing with some of the story threads that hadn’t been tied up in the 1st two films. In many ways, that third film gave me one last chance as a boy entering adolescence to spend time with characters I had truly grown to love and cherish.
In the end, I’ve just now started to appreciate Pat Morita’s other work in Happy Days, etc. and can truly appreciate his comedic range. 73 seems so young and yet so old at the same time – it really makes you realize that yeah, you don’t really get much time on this bucket of a planet called Earth – so make the most of it.
My deepest condolences go out to Mr. Morita’s family and friends – he will be missed.
News Item: Oscar-Nominated Actor Pat Morita Dies