Monday, June 28, 2010

Pat Morita

With the release of the new Karate Kid movie this month, I was thinking about the original series with Noriyuki Pat Morita.  Morita was born in 1932 and died in 2005.  He started out as a stand up comic, and in 1967 he was cast in Thoroughly Modern Millie to start his acting career. 

He continued always working.  IMDb shows 166 roles to his credit, although looking over the list, it's not a very distinguished resume.  I remember him playing on TV in "M*A*S*H" in 1972 and 1973.  Just two episodes, but I remember them.  He played a Korean officer, but he had a New Jersey accent.  You could really see his comedy background show through.

His accent was really American, since he was born in California.  He had to work on the Japanese accent for the Karate Kid movies.  He was interred with his parents during the second world war.  My guess is that it was that memory that inspired the story in The Next Karate Kid, with a young Hilary Swank.

He also narrated a documentary in 1997 called Beyond Barbed Wire about how we treated Japanese/Americans during the war.  He appeared in another movie about Japanese.Americans in 1980 called Hito Hata: Raise the Banner.  I wonder if these roles were because he wanted to tell the story, or if he just happened to be a great actor of Asian descent.

I haven't seen everything he has done, but I am not sure he was put to best use in "Sanford and Son" playing a character named Ah Chew, and I won't ask you to go out and watch all four of his Karate movies, they weren't all that good.  The first one had a story, then Ralph Macchio started getting too old to play a kid.  But these were his biggest hits, and he was nominated for an Oscar for the first one. 

I am sure he was well respected in Hollywood as a "Bit Actor, First Class," and you can find his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

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