'The perfect actor in the right role': 'Karate Kid' cast salutes the late Pat Morita on his birthday

Kevin Polowy
Senior Correspondent, Yahoo Entertainment

Cobra Kai has proved an unexpected delight for fans of The Karate Kid: The YouTube Premium series is soaked in ’80s nostalgia yet manages to challenge your perceptions of the film’s characters while introducing a new generation of teen heroes and antagonists on the mat. The series also returned stars Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, and Martin Kove to glory/infamy.

And although he passed away in 2005 at the age of 73, Pat Morita, the beloved actor who played Mr. Miyagi, sensei to Macchio’s Daniel LaRusso, still has a large presence in the YouTube series.

In a recent interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above), Macchio and co-stars remembered the late, great Morita, who would have turned 86 today and who scored an Oscar nomination for bringing the beloved (and deeply tragic) character to the screen.

“[It] was a case of the perfect actor in the right role, and he delivered on all cylinders a pitch-perfect performance that’s become a piece of pop culture in American cinema,” said Macchio, 56.

Pat Morita in The Karate Kid. (Photo: Columbia Pictures)

As Macchio pointed out, Morita (who had previously had a long-running stint as Arnold on the television show Happy Days) became the first Japanese-American character in a mainstream movie that dealt with the internment camps of World War II. In one especially memorable, heartbreaking scene, Daniel finds Miyagi in rare form, intoxicated and suited in his army fatigues, recounting how he fought for America while his wife was imprisoned at home and died during childbirth (along with their son) because of medical neglect.

“He knew he had a great responsibility to that,” the actor said. “As much as the Karate Kid film is considered [a] summer popcorn movie, there are those elements that are very rich in this film, and they are touched upon in the Cobra Kai series.”

The United States’ internment of its citizens of Japanese descent from 1942 to 1946 has been referenced recently as thousands of Central American migrant children were separated from their parents as a result of President Trump’s immigration policy, and the president’s travel ban targeting Muslim countries was upheld in a controversial decision by the Supreme Court on Tuesday.

Zabka, 52, remembered how the film’s cast and crew fondly called Morita “Uncle Pat.”

“He was much of a mentor for me,” Zabka explained. “The first time I met him was on the lot walking to our first training. … I was the new kid on the block, and I told him, ‘If you see that I’m doing anything wrong, feel free to let me know.’ We became quick friends. … He was a lovable, jolly guy.”

Watch the Cobra Kai cast talk about Karate Kid lines they can’t escape:

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