30th Anniversary of The Karate Kid, Pat Morita, and Hawai’i

This Sunday, June 22, is the 30th anniversary of the release of The Karate Kid. The film was a commercial success, and earned Noriyuki “Pat” Morita an Oscar and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. The Karate Kid would become an iconic part of American pop culture.

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The Karate Kid stars Ralph Macchio and Pat Morita at a charity event in 2004. 

When I saw The Karate Kid, I was thrilled to see Pat Morita in it, because I thought he was a local boy. Many others thought the same because Morita spent a few years in Hawai’i in the early 1980s, and even starred in some First Hawaiian Bank commercials. He was actually born in Isleton, Calif., about 45 minutes south of Sacramento. Growing up during World War II, he was part of the mass roundup and forced incarceration of Japanese Americans and Japanese immigrants — one of the worst civil rights violations in our nation’s history.

Hawai’i-born Guy Aoki marks the 30th anniversary of The Karate Kid in his Rafu Shimpo column, noting that the scene of Mr. Miyagi lamenting the death of his wife and child in those incarceration camps was almost cut from the movie. Studio executives thought the scene was boring. Aoki wrote that “Morita said he begged the director to keep it in, as it paid tribute to the suffering of his parents in those camps.”

Even after 30 years, and a slick remake, the original Karate Kid remains a solid film, and a tribute to “local boy” Pat Morita. This coming June 28 would have been his 82nd birthday. Morita passed away in 2005.

Here’s a clip of Morita sharing how he got the role of Mr. Miyagi.

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