The new documentary chronicling the life of the late Pat Morita, MORE THAN MIYAGI: THE PAT MORITA STORY, shares an all too familiar tale of a tortured artist, who suffered from a variety of physical and social ailments and unfortunately passed away at the bottom of his career without widespread appreciation of his contributions to the craft.
The film highlights Morita’s early life as a Japanese American child, who was diagnosed with Spinal Tuberculosis (Pott’s Disease) and didn’t learn to walk until he was 9 years old. Once discharged from Shriner’s Hospital, where he spent a large portion of life in a full body cast, he was escorted directly to an internment camp to join his family during the second World War – and subsequently dealt with the isolation, prejudices and discrimination that followed.
In addition to those traumas, young Pat had familial struggles – that included learning the person he’d known as his birth mother was his aunt and his biological mother had rejected him after birth.
His journey from working at his family’s Chinese restaurant, in the aerospace industry, to entering show business, initially as a stand-up comedian, is explored in the film – with a brief mention of Morita’s first two marriages that occurred within that timeframe and the three children that resulted.
After struggling and paying his dues, Morita landed several breaks – co-starring in shows such as “Sanford and Son” and “Mash” – with the biggest being his role as Arnold on the popular 70’s sitcom “Happy Days.”
Morita left the latter to star in the first Asian-American sitcom “Mr. T and Tina,” which unfortunately failed in the ratings and was cancelled after a year.
Of course, Morita’s most famous role would come years later with the beloved character Mr. Miyagi of “The Karate Kid” – a film that would spawn three additional, inspire the current Netflix hit “Cobra Kai,” and earn Morita an Oscar nod.
His third wife Evelyn Guerrero-Morita, from whom Pat was separated before his death, serves as an executive producer, and is featured prominently in the doc – both with interviews and contributing memorabilia used.
Subsequently, I felt a lack in how Morita’s first marriages, later life and his interpersonal struggles were documented – especially with his former manager referencing depleted funds because of divorcing and his children declining to be interviewed (click here for a 2010 read from Morita’s daughter Aly that offers additional insight).
Sadly, the Academy award-nominated Morita – even with both Golden Globe and
Emmy nods for his role in 1985’s “Amos” with Kirk Douglas – resorted to lesser roles to continue working, especially after his alcohol addiction negatively impacted his employability.
With interviews from former colleagues and friends including Henry Winkler, Marion Ross, Anson Williams, Don Most, Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, Esai Morales and Tommy Chong, enough insight is provided into Morita’s Hollywood rise and fall, yet the doc still suffers from intra- and interpersonal gaps that appeared difficult to address – whether intentional or inadvertently.
A moderately informative film, that leaves a few questions unanswered, “More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story” is an uncomplicated look into the life of a rather complicated man – who left this world without the acclaim warranted by all he was able to overcome and accomplish.
I rate it 3 out of 5 on the MMTrometer.
MORE THAN MIYAGI: THE PAT MORITA STORY is available February 5 on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Google Play, DVD and Blu-ray.
Until next thought, Thomasena
MORE THAN MIYAGI Synopsis:
The Oscar-nominated actor best known for his role of “Mr. Miyagi,” left behind a painfully revealing autobiographical record of his much-too-brief time here on Earth, tracing his journey from being bed-bound as a boy to the bright lights and discrimination in Hollywood. Deep inside that sweet, generous, multi-talented performer seethed an army of demons, that even alcohol and drugs couldn’t mask.
Featuring: Ralph Macchio, William
Zabka, Martin Kove, Henry Winkler, James Hong, Sean
Kanan, Marion Ross, Esai Morales, Tommy Chong, Don Most, Anson
Williams and more.
Run time: 89 mins. (Not rated)
Directed by Kevin Derek
Executive Producers: Evelyn
Guerrero-Morita, Greg Lai, Cindy Lai
Producers: Oscar Alvarez, Kelly Jackson
Co-Producer: Byrad Yyelland