I watched a documentary tonight on Vudu that featured a look at the life, mainly during his adult life in entertainment, of Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, famed comedic actor from Happy Days, Sanford and Son and, most notably, The Karate Kid series of films where he portrayed the iconic karate master Mr. Miyagi.
The first half of the documentary focused on Morita’s young life, including his time in the Japanese internment camps during World War II. The doc then started to examine his early days in Hollywood, with his appearances on variety shows and his stand up comedy. The film told the story of how Pat Morita became the owner of the diner on Happy Days, Arnold. Some of the prejudice of the entertainment industry was shown, including the difficulties of a person of Asian culture getting jobs on television and the movies. The film showed clips of Mickey Rooney’s desperately stereotypical, leaning towards racist, role in Breakfast at Tiffany’s, one of the most infamous performances of all time as well as the portrayal of Genghis Khan by, of all people, John Wayne.
Overcoming these stereotypes to join Happy Days, Morita’s career continued on with some choices that may not have been the best choice made. We saw interviews featuring Henry Winkler, Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Donnie Most, Larry Miller, Tommy Chong and James Hong.
However, everything led to the role that would change his life, that being the Oscar nominated role of Mr. Miyagi in the Karate Kid films. They cover the story of how Morita earned that role and they went into specifics about the way it was filmed. We saw interviews with co-stars Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, Sean Kanan and Martin Kove.
Even more interesting was the struggles Morita faced later in his life with alcoholism and the battle he eventually lost with the disease. There were several powerful moments in recollection by his third wife Evelyn Guerrero. I did not know much about the actor’s personal challenge when come to drinking, something that he had done his entire life.
Pat Morita was loved by his family and friends and he left a huge legacy with one of the great characters of the 1980s cinema. He had a life of pain and struggle, but he still was able to find success. He seemed to be a kind man, and wouldn’t it be nice to say that about all of us?