Friday, November 25, 2005

Mr. Miyagi Dies


(image via

We can still hear the explosive and infectiously percussive laughter of Pat Morita, after he dunked the overconfident and precariously balanced Daniel-san into the chilly Pacific from their boat during that atmospheric Crane-style training scene in the first Karate Kid film (Scored, charmingly, by Bill Conti). That could not have been just acting, it was too much of a pure moment.

To the legions of young men -- The Corsair included -- who regarded Pat Morita as a sort of cinematical father-figure, a temperate mixture of the twin virtues of wisdom and strength, Morita's death comes as a crane-style kick to the side of the head.

We half expected Mr. Morita to grow old, do the requisite cameos, and perhaps -- if we were lucky -- to revive his role as our favorite dojomaster-of-one at some later date. Death, who laughs at such naive expectations from the future, had other plans. Pat Morita is gone and we are left to make sense of it. From Tom Molloy of the AP:

"Actor Pat Morita, whose portrayal of the wise and dry-witted Mr. Miyagi in 'The Karate Kid' earned him an Oscar nomination, has died. He was 73.

"Morita died Thursday at his home in Las Vegas of natural causes, said his wife of 12 years, Evelyn. She said in a statement that her husband, who first rose to fame with a role on 'Happy Days,' had 'dedicated his entire life to acting and comedy.'

"In 1984, he appeared in the role that would define his career and spawn countless affectionate imitations. As Kesuke Miyagi, the mentor to Ralph Macchio's 'Daniel-san,' he taught karate while trying to catch flies with chopsticks and offering such advice as 'wax on, wax off' to guide Daniel through chores to improve his skills."

Oh, he did so much more than that. Morita's Miyagi honed Daniel Laruso's unfocused teen angst into an effective weapon, one that would singlehandedly and methodically take down the entire Cobra-kai empire, led by the sinister, ass-dimpled on his chin "Kreese," the bent embodiment of the unappreciated Vietnam veteran gone ... sideways.

Our favorite scene of Miyagi is in the beginning of Karate Kid II, when, immediately following Daniel-san's victory at the Middle Valley tourney, Miyagi throws down on Kreese. Ninja-style. It was on like Gray Poupon!


Kreese is trippin' (image via photobucket)

Kreese, revealing his true, sulfuric nature, had the prickish California-blonde Johnny Lawrence in some ferocious Karate choke hold from behind (see above), and was about to put his former A-student down for the count. Enter: Miyagi.

Miyagi briskly took Kreese out, ironically without striking a single bone-crunching blow, leaving a bloddy-fisted and helpless Kreese to face the teleological end of his own errant philosophy. ("honk-honk")

And, afterwards, the following bittersweet lesson:

"Daniel: You could have killed him, couldn't you?

"Mr. Miyagi: Aiy.

"Daniel: Well, Why didn't you?

"Mr. Miyagi: Because Daniel, for man with no forgiveness in heart, life worse punishment than death."

Of course, Kreese would come back in Karate Kid Part 3, up to evil and out for revenge, with some geeky dude with a ponytail, and once again face ignoble defeat at the hands of the Crane-style. But that's beyond the point. Surely, Morita himself had learned of the transcendance of forgiveness, for according to the AP:

"For years, Morita played small and sometimes demeaning roles in such films as 'Thoroughly Modern Millie' and TV series such as 'The Odd Couple' and 'Green Acres.' His first breakthrough came with 'Happy Days,' and he followed with his own brief series, 'Mr. T and Tina.'

"... Morita was prolific outside of the 'Karate Kid' series as well, appearing in 'Honeymoon in Vegas,' 'Spy Hard,' 'Even Cowgirls Get the Blues' and 'The Center of the World.' He also provided the voice for a character in the Disney movie 'Mulan' in 1998.

"Born in northern California on June 28, 1932, the son of migrant fruit pickers, Morita spent most of his early years in the hospital with spinal tuberculosis. He later recovered only to be sent to a Japanese-American internment camp in Arizona during World War II.

"'One day I was an invalid,' he recalled in a 1989 AP interview. 'The next day I was public enemy No. 1 being escorted to an internment camp by an FBI agent wearing a piece.'

"After the war, Morita's family tried to repair their finances by operating a Sacramento restaurant. It was there that Morita first tried his comedy on patrons.

"Because prospects for a Japanese-American standup comic seemed poor, Morita found steady work in computers at Aerojet General. But at age 30 he entered show business full time.

"'Only in America could you get away with the kind of comedy I did,' he commented. 'If I tried it in Japan before the war, it would have been considered blasphemy, and I would have ended in leg irons. '"

And so, America made good on its shameful treatment of Pat Morita -- Michelle Malkin's disgusting defense of internment camps notwithstanding. Against the odds, despite a showbiz beginnings playing to sterotypes, Pat Morita triumphed. Alas, Hollywood never put together a reunion of sorts between Macchio and Morita. It would have made millions. It was not to be.

Pat Morita rides off into the Hollywood sunset, the stuff of legends, the fabric of soft memories, mourned by his legion of fans.

The Corsair will never forget first viewing the Karate Kid, especially that scene when Daniel-san takes the opportunity to look through Miyagi's photographic past after his master's sake-feuelled evening, discovering, in effect, a mysterious and concealed past. Although it took the sequel to flesh-out that past, in that moment, Danile-san realized that there was far more to his rescuer-building superintendant than he, a Jersey boy, would ever know. After reading about the internment camp and his childhood with spinal tuberculosis -- and comparing that to where he ended his days, working in Hollywood, the land of Dreams, I also feel that there is far more to Pat Morita than we will ever know.

With that, goodbye Pat Morita. Wax off, stage left, we will miss you.

Pat Morita, RIP


mudpuppygrunt said...

Hey Corsair,

I thought your tribute to pat morita was wonderful. It made me think more about the iconic figure than I ever had before. I was a real fan of the karate kid movies as I was just starting a lifelong love of karate as a 17 year old at that time myself. You truly recognized the subtle essence of Moritas philosophy in those movies.

Ron said...

bloglove. Karate Kid is a movie that had a HUGE influence on people of our generation. I wanted to send him off in style.

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