Pat Morita is best known as the iconic Mr. Miyagi from the 1984 hit, The Karate Kid. The role pushed him to star status and an Academy Award nomination in 1985. Before all that, the man described as kind, funny and thoughtful went through many trials as a Japanese American. Though he passed away before telling his life story, his widow and third wife, Evelyn Guerrero-Morita, swore that she would finish his autobiographical manuscript. The text serves as the basis for Kevin Derek’s documentary about Morita’s life entitled, More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story.
Through Guerrero-Morita, her radio interview on the show “Table for 5” in Los Angeles, actual clips from Morita himself, and excerpts from his unfinished manuscript, the film recounts Morita’s rough childhood riddled with physical and emotional pain. From childhood paralysis, life in an internment camp in Arizona to his family’s Chinese restaurant in Sacramento, Morita lived a tough but mostly traditional life. A life that included several marriages and three daughters. At the age of 30, he decided to do what he loved and became a comedian. His success led him to many sitcoms like The Redd Foxx Show, Mash and finally Happy Days with his portrayal of Arnold, the restaurant owner whose famous orange booths gave the gang a place to plot many zany antics.
His career had many ups and downs until The Karate Kid. We learn about the trials of typecasting and racial stereotypes that he had to endure (I highly recommend the 2006 documentary The Slanted Screen, where Asian-American actors talk about the issues of racism in Hollywood). He was also a functioning alcoholic. The pain he drowned with alcohol was challenging for many in his life, especially Guerrero-Morita, who dealt with his decline professionally, physically and emotionally.
Derek compiles family photos and interviews with Morita’s co-stars and peers, who speak warmly of him. It’s a touching look at a man who made the best of his talents despite a rough start in life. Although his daughters declined to be involved, we have his half-siblings talk about his life and struggles, as well as Don Most, Ralph Macchio, Marion Ross, James Hong, and Tommy Chong. Like most comedians, his laughter covered a lot of pain, and it’s evident Morita had a lot of demons that haunted him throughout his life.
More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story will be available on February 5th on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, DVD and Blu-ray.