‘More Than Miyagi’ Docu Tells the Incredible Story of the Late ‘Karate Kid’ Star Pat Morita
Netflix’s smash hit Cobra Kai, has some familiar faces from The Karate Kid — the decades-old film franchise on which the spinoff series is based — including former teen champ Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and his rival Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka). But one notable absence: sensei Mr. Miyagi, played by Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, who played the mentor and moral compass for “Daniel-san,” and who passed away in 2005.
But an upcoming documentary is here to fill the “wax on/wax off” void. More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story, from director Kevin Derek, aims to give a complete look at the life of the actor, whose wide-ranging credits also included Happy Days and Mulan.
Among those who give interviews and chat about the Oscar-nominated star: His Karate Kid costars Macchio and Zabka, plus Henry Winkler, James Hong, Marion Ross, Don Most, and many others. (Hilary Swank, who starred in The Next Karate Kid, “wanted to do it but didn’t have the time,” reveals Derek.)
The most revealing interview, however, comes courtesy of Morita’s widow, Evelyn Guerrero, who opens up about her husband’s struggles with alcoholism.
“The one thing I didn’t know was the amount he drank. I didn’t know how severe it was,” says Derek, who adds that it began to affect the actor in his later years.
The doc also delves into Morita’s childhood in California, where he spent nine years, starting at age 2, in hospitals with spinal tuberculosis. The condition meant being stuck in a full-body cast from shoulders to knees until the youngster survived an experimental procedure to walk again. He overcame this miraculous hurdle in the midst of World War II. But the Japanese-American was then transferred to an internment camp.
“He endured a lot and been through so much and rose above it and took on one of the most iconic roles in cinema history. It’s unbelievable,” Derek added.
The director has somewhat of a personal connection to Morita. “I’ve studied karate my entire life,” says Derek. His longtime instructor was Fumio Demura, Morita’s stunt double in the Karate Kid movies and the subject of Derek’s 2015 Netflix doc The Real Miyagi. He met Morita “before he had done any Karate Kid films. He seemed like such a genuine person.”
The meeting left an indelible impression on Derek, who hopes audiences walk away from More Than Miyagi knowing that Morita was…well more than Miyagi. He was a survivor, a family man and a pioneer for Asian Americans in Hollywood.
More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story, February 5, Digital and VOD, Blu-ray and DVD