More Than Miyagi Review

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More Than Miyagi Review – More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story shares the life, trials, and contribution of a highly under-recognized entertainment icon

With the incredible sequel series to The Karate KidCobra KaiMr. Miyagi has never been more present and more missed. The iconic sensei who taught us that Karate lives in everything we do, who fought for America while his family was lost in the internment camps, is still a guiding presence in the series and in many ways in life too. Mr. Miyagi, by those who don’t know, was portrayed by the late great Noriyuki “Pat” Morita. The role earned him an Oscar nomination and is likely his most popular role. However, as the title of the documentary suggests The Pat Morita Story is far More Than Miyagi.

Directed by Kevin Derek, More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story shares the life, trials, and achievements of Noriyuki “Pat” Morita. As a guy who talks a lot about American Asian representation, I am disappointed in how little I knew about Pat Morita. Morita should be considered an American Asian trailer blazer in entertainment like Anna May Wong, Sessue Hayakawa, and Bruce Lee. However, unlike many other early American Asian actors, Morita’s career seems to have been more about being American Asian than Asian. Personally, I see Morita’s story and career as more akin to Lucy Liu, John Cho, and Awkwafina. They grew up on American culture and are American actors and, more often than not, play American Asian roles. His story is uniquely American and a testament to American Asians that are not the stereotypical study hard, go to college, get a job.

Noriyuki “Pat” Morita was born June 28, 1932. He developed spinal tuberculosis at the age of two and spent most of the next 9 years bed-bound and in the hospital. When he was 11, he underwent extensive spinal surgery which allowed him to learn how to walk, only to be transported directly to an internment camp. After the war, his family opened up a Chinese restaurant. For those questioning a Japanese family opening up a Chinese restaurant, question if Japanese culture would be tolerated immediately after WWII. Morita worked at his family restaurant for a while, even after his father was tragically killed, and eventually took a few other jobs to support his wife and newborn. After years of numerous different jobs, Morita burned out and decided to try show business.

He started as a stand-up comedian where he took the stage name “Pat Morita.” He struggled for a while in Sacramento, before moving to Los Angeles where Sally Marr, Lenny Bruce’s mother, becomes his agent and manager.  Where he got parts in movies and still performed stand up. This lead to him striking friendships when many comedians, like Redd Foxx. Foxx ended up giving him a role on Sanford and Son. He also had a recurring role as Matsuo “Arnold” Takahashi, which lead to him getting his own show Mr. T and Tina, the first American-Asian sitcom on network TV (and only until Margaret Cho’s sitcom All-American Girl and Fresh off the Boat). Morita’s credits acting credits begin in 1964 and include a number of movie and TV roles.

His biggest and most recognizable role came in 1984, as Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid. Outside of the Karate Kid and his Oscar nomination, he would also receive a Primetime Emmy Award and second Golden Globe nomination for his supporting role in Amos, and would continue acting until his unfortunate passing in 2005.

The documentary goes deep into his career as well as his personal life. Like most others, Pat Morita had his demons. He struggled with alcoholism his entire life. He began drinking at the age of 12, and kind of never stopped. Though throughout most of his career he was a consummate professional, it truly started to affect his life and career towards the end. Morita had deep-seated issues from his life but for the most part, seemed to positively affect the lives of others.

Derek’s documentary does a great job of capturing the good of Morita’s life without glossing over the bad. The bad is the latter part of the documentary and it is heartbreaking. Evelyn Guerrero guides most of the story, giving us a very personal account of the events. She doesn’t appear to hold back the negative of Pat’s afflictions, but she is sympathetic and provides a lot of context and understanding without hiding the harm. She tenderly shares very intimate accounts but also a very profound understanding that doesn’t justify or downplay anything and helps people to understand. I feel the documentary’s overall sentiment reflects Guerrero’s, she doesn’t shy or hide the bad parts of Pat but she chooses and cherishes the good.

The rest of the accounts of Pat, which is a long list of celebrities and industry professionals, are mostly positive. Which, for most, is the only side of Pat they got despite his struggles with alcoholism. Pat Morita, even with his struggles, appears to have done his best to spread love and laughs to everyone he met. Even those who saw him at his worse were understanding and non-judgemental and knew that when it was his choice he chose to be good to others. I think the biggest tragedy though, is that no one knew how to help Pat. They wanted to, but no one knew how.

More Than Miyagi is the perfect resource to begin delving into the incredible life of the man who brought Mr. Miyagi to life. As the title declares, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita is More than Miyagi. He was the stand-up comedian known as The Hip Nip, he was the American-Asian restaurant owner Arnold on the most popular show of the time, he was the star of the first American-Asian sitcom on network television, he was also someone who struggled with alcoholism and lived in the Japanese internment camps. He was a person who is far more complex than the role he’s known for, but that complexity also attributes to why that role is so known. Kevin Derek’s documentary is a wonderful tribute to the life and contributions of Pat Morita that allows us to awe at Noriyuki “Pat” Morita’s legacy and understand that he is human. My More Than Miyagi review gets a 5/5.

More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story releases February 5th, 2021, on VOD and is available to pre-order now on iTunes.

More Than Miyagi Review
5

TLDR

More Than Miyagi is the perfect resource to begin delving into the incredible life of the man who brought Mr. Miyagi to life. As the title declares, Noriyuki “Pat” Morita is More than Miyagi. He was the stand-up comedian known as The Hip Nip, he was the American-Asian restaurant owner Arnold on the most popular show of the time, he was the star of the first American-Asian sitcom on network television, he was also someone who struggled with alcoholism and lived in the Japanese internment camps. He was a person who is far more complex than the role he’s known for, but that complexity also attributes to why that role is so known. Kevin Derek’s documentary is a wonderful tribute to the life and contributions of Pat Morita that allows us to awe at Noriyuki “Pat” Morita’s legacy and understand that he is human.

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