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ALY

Aly Morita is a writer, Asian American activist and daughter of the late Pat Morita. She is currently at work on her first novel at Sassafras Liberty, an artists collective in Tennessee.

In 1984, I was in the throes of becoming a nightmare teenager, having discovered boys, Aqua Net for my spiked hair and the telephone. My younger sister was an awkward nine-year old, looking more like a boy than a girl with her short hair and cherubic face. My mother was in the midst of putting the finishing touches on the house she had rebuilt tooth and nail, the one we had just moved back into—the home destroyed by a mudslide four years prior. My father had only recently rejoined my family after spending a few years in Hawai’i, nursing the wounds he had suffered after the cancellation of his series, Mr. T & Tina, the first network sitcom starring an Asian American. The home we moved back into, my parents’ marriage and my family were barely intact, but the summer of 1984 seemed full of promise.

My father had spent the last year involved with this new movie, called The Karate Kid. He endured endless jokes from my sister and I—the title was so uncool. I was a little embarrassed, knowing my father was going to star in a film about karate—my unformed identity politics just cognizant enough to discern a problem, but our taunting was quieted by the tremendous amount of satisfaction and happiness my father experienced throughout the making of the movie. He was nothing, in his eyes, if he wasn’t working.

The Karate Kid was sort of a maverick film at the time. It had an indie film quality to it (this was back in the 80s, mind you… before Pulp Fiction or any low-budget, independent films had a name). It was financed by Columbia Pictures or Guy McElwaine, a man who my father always referred to when speaking about the birth of Karate Kid. Mr. McElwaine was a sensitive visionary—the head of Columbia at the time, but someone who had an inherent understanding of films that resonate with people. Maybe this studio head knew that there was something special about this project and he was willing to allow the director and writer to go with their gut. No one wanted to see a karate flick in the 1980s and yet, this man, this studio head, said, yeah, let’s go with this and see what happens. It feels good.

There was nothing glamorous about the original Karate Kid shoot. They filmed the movie in 40 days and cut corners wherever they could to stay under budget. The crew found locations in the hinterlands of the San Fernando Valley, refashioned and outfitted Miyagi’s house from a dusty rental, built its resplendent Japanese garden and impressive deck, created the façade of wealth for Elisabeth Shue’s character in Lake Encino and, basically, made something from nothing. It was a group effort. My father always spoke about that. It was each and every individual from the top down and bottom up contributing something meaningful and worthy to make this film. There were no Hollywood egos to contend with or cater to. Each person had something to prove. Each person had something they needed to do to make this little film worthwhile.

There was a maverick, low-budget spirit to the original movie that translated to the screen. There was the raw script of Robert Mark Kamen writing a story that resonated—the wise master and his protégé overcoming odds. There was the deft eye and hand of director John Avildsen bringing quiet beauty to a raw script. There were studio executives who believed in the project, regardless of its financial or marketing potential. There were no expensive A-List actors starring in the film. Ralph Macchio, who had a following of teenage girls after the success of The Outsiders, was the big draw. Some of my girlfriends were crazy for him. I had the poster on my bedroom wall and, although I favored Tom Cruise and Rob Lowe, I would look up at the poster and think how weird it was that Johnny and my dad were becoming friends.

And there was my father who had just spent the last six years licking the wounds from the brief taste of success he got from his season on Happy Days and the even more abbreviated moment having his own series, still trying to prove what he was made of and delved into the role of Miyagi, heart and soul, because, really, that was all he had. I don’t know what happened during that audition when my dad tried to strut his best stuff. I don’t know what producer Jerry Weintraub or Mr. So-and So or John Avildsen saw in my father. All I know is that after years upon years of trying to strut his best stuff my father was finally seen.

When I was still in college, before my father passed, I took a class loosely based on performance art. For our final project, the instructor asked us to reveal a secret about ourselves and to create an interactive piece around it. No one in the class knew who my father was, so I decided to try and go with that. First, I asked my classmates whether they would choose money or fame. For those who responded “Money,” I told them they could play the role of paparazzi or fan. For those who chose fame I asked them to tell me a secret about themselves and told them they would be a famous person of some kind. I then constructed a makeshift red carpet on my front walkway out of red butcher paper and bright, glaring lights I bought at Home Depot.

The night of my final project I revealed the secret that each of the “famous” people told me to the paparazzi and told them to be relentless in probing the famous people when they arrived. The fans simply had to act like fans and vie for an autograph or picture. It was a fun exercise as the famous people arrived, each person going straight into character and having a great time with their roles.

After all my classmates were present, I had everyone sit in my living room, which I tried to create into a home theater. I then took my place in front of them on a stool and began a monologue as slides of my father played onto a bare, white wall. I did the big “reveal” with a slide of The Karate Kid poster on the wall and then proceeded to recount a brief history of my experience growing up as his daughter. My teens and twenties were difficult, if mostly because of the rollercoaster ride through the Land of Celebrity that my family went on.

We had already endured the struggle of living at the bottom—moving into my beloved grandmother’s apartment after she died the same year the mudslide destroyed our home, my father struggling once-again as an out-of-work-actor, my parents marriage crumbling, but then my parents fought their way back to rise above our circumstances. The Karate Kid hit and it hit big. Overnight, my father became famous—on an international level. The brief success or recognition he received from his time on Happy Days or any of the bit parts he had on other shows could not compare to how, suddenly, the public responded to him after The Karate Kid. The slew of sequels were made and incrementally throughout the 80s and 90s, the craziness of celebrity overtook him. My sister and I rode the Concorde from London to New York with him and stayed in the best hotels. People catered to him left and right; he always had a town car or limo at his disposal. He was everywhere: as the Colgate Wisdom Tooth, as Ohara—yet another short-lived series on television that he was given–and in the Karate Kid films. I could not get away from his fame or celebrity even if I tried. I was always “Pat Morita’s daughter.”

In my final project for this class, I demonstrated this by sharing a slide of an envelope I received in the mail. One summer I stayed at my father’s condo in Hawai’i, pretending to go to school, but really just loafing around and smoking a lot of pot—trying to get away from him, from my parents, from the realities of my life. I went to the mailbox one day and pulled out the contents and what do I see but an envelope on my Bank Of Hawai’i statement with an image of my father waving at me and smiling. Oh my god. Seriously? I can’t even get my goddam mail without him there?

Finally, I proceeded to show a slide of Anna May Wong and Sessue Hayakawa—both even bigger stars in their time than my father. Although they weren’t a couple, they were like the Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt of the 1920s. They had the allure of sexiness and glamour that my father didn’t have during his heyday and they were huge stars. I asked my classmates whether anyone knew who they were. No. No one knew. The point of my final project became this: even though my father may have shared some semblance of celebrity or recognition, he, too, will be forgotten. He, too, will fade in the memory of the public.

And maybe this is why I am so passionate about this campaign to not support the remake of The Karate Kid. I don’t want my father to be forgotten so soon. It’s been only five years since he passed—five long years for me—and, maybe, if this remake succeeds or becomes another behemoth unto itself, the role he fought so hard for, the magic of the original film, the excitement felt by the Asian American community to finally have one of their own represented in the media will all be forgotten. It pains me to think how easily seduced most people are by Hollywood—that this shinier, brighter model may cloud the integrity and magic of the original film and diminish the heart and soul of my father.

Honestly, I don’t know what will come of this campaign I started. I am a mere slip in the bucket. With or without my input or protestations, the remake will succeed or fail and become what it will. The public, at large, will ultimately determine its fate. I guess, my intent is to simply create more awareness and need for dialogue about how Asian Americans are represented or respected in this society—this America, this United States of A, this place I and my father called home—and what, if we will, do anything about it. All I know is that Asian American representation needs to change now. All I know is my experience as my father’s daughter.

Check out previous posts about Pat Morita from Offender Justin and Guest Offender David Henry Hwang as well as Offender Anderson’s thoughts on the remake.

44 Comments

  1. Thanks for your lovely post, Aly. I know some of us have differing opinions on the remake than you do, but I think the one thing everyone can agree on is how great your father was in the original and the importance of remembering his legacy and that of the film. I know how much that meant to me and many others who grew up with the film and neither time or the remake will diminish that as far as I’m concerned.

  2. Wow Aly,

    That was so excellently penned in more ways that I can express. Thanks for sharing something so personal and private. RF

  3. Your pops bought me and actor pals a round at the old Imperial Gardens restaurant on the Strip. I’m not sure exactly when, but believe it was before Kid hit.

    I think it was cool, still do. He may have been out of work, down, but when he heard we were all actors he smiled big and gladly put us in cups.

    Btw, also heard him speak at a large veteran’s gathering at the Convention Ctr in LA. He spoke off the cuff about being a boy in a relocation camp, and how he so looked up to what the Nisei soldiers were doing. It was heartfelt.

    He created a beautiful character in the original movie.

  4. Thanks Aly for writing this piece. I only knew of you from the blurbs you wrote on facebook but this gives me and others and understanding of where and why you take the position that have. Good luck.

  5. And regardless of how successful this remake becomes, no one will forget your dad. At least not the people who grew up with him. Those who will forget him will have never have known him…

  6. Good. You’re writing closer to the bone now, discovering what you love–your father, his legacy, and your honesty and candor about yourself as his ambivalent, complicated heir. Homage!

  7. Aly, I had the honor of working side by side, with your father, on a small film called HAMMERLOCK . He was such a generous man, and I will never forget his life work, and comraderie on set. I am touched by your writing and candor. Your father is an inspiration to me!

  8. As someone growing up in the 80s, the original Karate Kid series was the first time I ever heard of the 442nd. Really remarkable that something this seemingly commercial had its heart in Asian America.

  9. It is what it is, and life goes on…they always make sequels and I DO want to empathize but there are more important issues in the world right now…it is NOT a big deal and honestly I’m tired of reading similar links through Facebook…enough is enough already and let things be!!!

  10. This was an extraordinarily moving, well-written and ultimately important piece. Thank you so much, Aly, for being who you are, standing up for what is right, and believing in SOMETHING. We can all work together to improve Asian American representation in our society and value the things that matter in life, which as you point out, is not fame.

    Thank you again.

  11. Michelle, you miss the point. According to you, “let things be” so let’s not fight for anything. Let’s all just roll over. Good idea, Michelle. So glad you are around to fight the good fight for us all. This is why Asian Americans are doing sooo “well” in the public eye.

  12. Great piece, Aly! Two brushes with greatness, aka your dad: Once in 1980, he came up to teach a stand-up workshop one weekend at AATC in San Francisco and then we all hung out and partied with him in J-Town in complete and utter awe of him. The second one was watching him shoot his scenes in Lane Nishikawa’s ONLY THE BRAVE: He was awesome, making brilliance look so easy, knocking out his scenes in one or two takes. Your dad was a great man and his legacy lives on in many more ways than you can imagine.

  13. Thank you so much for sharing such a heart felt, informative and well written piece of writing. I so appreciate it in so many different ways. I look forward to reading more of your writing in the future.

  14. Aly,

    I know we’ve been on different sides of the issue when it comes to our perspectives of the Karate Kid remake and although I would loooove for you to watch the film (I would even pay for it!), I know where you are finally coming from after reading this article. I would love to meet you in person one of these days and have a good sit-down chat about your father, the future of Asian Americans in Hollywood, and everything in between. Thank you for writing this.

    Sincerely,
    Edward Hong

  15. Hi Aly,
    Your father will not be forgotten. He was a great actor and a great man. However, Hollywood is caught up in remake fever. I don’t know if this movie will be a hit or not, but I think the fact that it is based in China, is because of China’s standing in the world. They probably should have called it “The Kung Fu Kid”, as it is Kung Fu, and not Karate. Nobody will forget Mr. Myagi or Arnold from Happy Days.

  16. Pat Morita is a part of history. As long as history is researched and profiled, it will be remembered.
    Keep it up Aly. Remind and educate in any you can, make people listen and be aware. Lead and we will follow.

  17. While Aly makes passionate and personal arguments, I do not agree. I don’t think the reboot affects our opinion of the original in any way. Just as the reboot of Planet of the Apes and The Day Earth Stood Still make us forget or appreciate the original any less. Same holds for The Manchurian Candidate, 12 Angry Men, etc.

    Hollywood has always found the way to re-imagine or reboot stories. That’s just the way it is. The “screenwriter” with the greatest number of film credits is Shakespeare. Ben-Hur was remade twice, with the third version setting Oscar records. I think the fact that The Karate Kid reboot has made 50+ million in its first weekend is a testament to the mental real estate the first movie had on past generations.

  18. Nobody can forgot your father. He was a visionary actor for Asian Americans in Hollywood. He was the star of one of the biggest, most popular 1980s movies that will always live in our hearts and memories for the X Generation and Gen Y.

    nobody will remmember the remake in a few years, but the 1984 film will always live on forever, and so shall the memory of your father.

  19. Aly,
    What an eloquent statement you’ve shared about your personal woes about your father, Pat (Noriyuki) Morita. I probably won’t really grasp the fathom of his celebrity status and it impacted your family’s life.

    But, I would probably disagree with your opinion about remaking the Karate Kid and that it’s only been five years since your father’s passing. Although, I admit, I don’t know all the personal issues that went on behind the scenes, but I do know that your father’s legacy is one that is positive and endearing. I too was 14 years old when The Karate Kid was released (which I went to see 3 times in the theater). This movie had such a positive message throughout and it deserves another try to become a cult classic for a new generation.

    My 10 yr. old son is excited to see the new one and I tell him all the time about how Mr. Miyagi was a great teacher to Daniel.

    I’ve been through some of the challenges if being stereotyped ( I am Asian)-when the original Katate Kid was released. People started assuming that every Asian person knew karate and has a bonsai tree in their possession.

    But that’s also the beauty of storytelling–it’s
    a story. It can help open up the imagination and see a new culture in the process.

    I understand you’re a writer and you definitely know how to share your opinion. But as I said before, your father will not soon be forgotten just because a remake of the film has been released. If anything it will conjure up memories of Mr. Miyagi and Daniel and how their relationship can still be retold and impact a new generation

  20. Aly,
    I am so sorry for the loss of your father, my heart goes out to you. As a brown person, I know all to well the importance of not judging someone, or something before I get a chance to know them/it. I understand you have not seen the new movie and I hope you do at dome point.

    To be honest I had not thought about the original in many years, and it was the ads about the new one that reminded me of it and of your father whom I enjoyed very much watching in that and other movies.

    If this movie is a success it will not tarnish your father’s legacy but it will be because of it. I wish you well and I hope you go to see it. If your views are the same, then so be it.

    For me, I am glad that a movie with all brown actors is doing so well in a world with the Prince of Persia and The last Airbender have white actors for fear the movies would not do well without them.

    We should support movies like this (if they are good) and show that a movie without white leads can be just as successful, it will be a victory for your community as well as mine 🙂

  21. Well , as 4 a north american quiet like me i think they were wrong to miss-call the actions in the movie …. i saw the movie … i thought it was great …. they really didnt focus on what the movie was really about ….

  22. U ALL ARE IDIOTS ! THAT MOVIE WAS AWSOME …. SHESH AND U SAY NORTH AMERICANS HAVE LACK OF KNOWLEGDE ……. WHAT COUNTRY EATS COCKROACHES

  23. i’m glad you guys presented differing opinions on yomyomf. i liked the new film. not as good as the original but come on, a boycott?

  24. Wonderful post.

    Aly also wrote about her father in the most recent issue of Hyphen magazine:

    http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/magazine/issue-20-insideout/papa-san-pat-morita’s-daughter-waxing-and-waning-her-father’s-life

  25. pat morita the legend!!!!

  26. Whiners. Asian american actors this, asian american actors that. At least you guys aren’t NATIVE american actors. Sheesh. Those guys get it alot worse in their own indigenous country… not to mention it’s the only land of cultural signifigance they have.

    All things aside, I agree with Aly’s stance on the remake, although there is only ONE asian american in the whole movie. The fact remains that the Smiths bought jr a film franchise, the studio kept the name of the film for ‘marketing’ reasons (how many other words are there for greed?), and I think it overblows the heart and soul of the original film for commercial success.

  27. Very nice !

  28. I watched it as a child and I loved it, for the very reason that it was representing someone of non-Anglo Saxon background. My father loved it too. As an immigrant, I think he could relate to your fathers character and person – the struggle for success in a predominantly white society. I do find it offensive that the only time they cast anyone of a different ethnic background, they have to play characters which represent a stereotype of their culture. Brown people play terrorist, Asians act in martial arts films and Africans play basketball players. That is disgusting.

    I won’t be watching the remake. It’s just not the same.

  29. Thank you for your story. It was lovely and very well written. Please don’t worry about anyone forgetting your father. He will always be remembered and especially for his role in the original Karate Kid. Folks who see the remake, even if they end up enjoying it, understand that it is what it is… a remake. No one can replace the original cast.

    Cheers!

  30. This is your reason for your boycott? That’s the dumbest, whiniest, thing I have ever heard. I am boycotting the movie for all the right reasons check it out. Or wait it might “offend” you so F**K OFF then

  31. The Karate Kid is the Top film ever created. I Preordered it and have seen it 8 times in three days. I’m 17, so this movie attracts all age range.

  32. are you crazy? this makes me think of your dad more than ever , i grew up with the karate kid and everytime you say the name the only person comes to mind is Pat Morita. if you dont know his name you can never understand the real karate kid , i know it must be hard to see the movie be remade without your father but believe it or not it makes me desire to remember Pat Morita, but i must say he has a hell of a daughter to not want her father to be lost to the pages of time, people can forget but he lives forever in my heart forever

  33. and everyone with the bad comments , can you not see this is a daughter hurtin and thinking her father is being replaced. no one an replace Pat Morita no one! but i must say . jackie chan was the nesxt best choice for the part but he was still no mr miyagi. Aly your a strong person and dont listen to these selfless weirdo’s rag you for loving your father because that is what your father did best was steal the hearts of people who see good very often in other people and your father showed alot of love and alot of good, i am proud to call Pat Morita my role model and im sure it was your father that inspired this movie and he will inspire the next =)

  34. Hey I can’t believe I missed this one. Although I supported the idea of it when I heard about the boycott. I am totally going to incorporate Karate Kid the 442 and this entry into my lesson on American Identity next semester. The heart of it is powerful! Thank you Aly!

  35. Hi Aly, I am actually watching the Karate Kid on Encore right now and I dont see myself as an emotional type of guy but I must admit that every time I watch the Karate Kid especially parts 1 and 3 the ending brings tears to my eyes every single time. Your dad made his character so believable and someone that makes you want to be proud of. This is the only movie that makes me this emotional and I consider myself a movie buff so I have alot of movies to reference and he actually made me want to learn the art of Karate when I was a kid. I am 35 years old now and you dont have to worry about your dad ever being forgotten. His character is one that will stand the test of time like Marlon Brando in the Godfather. No one will forget him or the Godfather movies and Karate Kid will be just the same no matter how many times it is remade no one can replace your father. By the way I refuse to watch the new version as well and will never watch it in the future if nothing else but out of respect for your father. May he rest in peace. God bless you and your family.

  36. Regardless of the remake (which made me sad – I always loved the original as a child, and still do), your father will always be the one “teacher”, the “mr. Miagi” that we all remember and love. I never have forgotten him, only that he passed (until now when I was reminded by your words), and hope you know that from what we saw as the public, he was and will always be special in our hearts. Thank you for sharing your father with us. He brought a different level of respect to those who teach us, even if only in film.

  37. Hi Aly,

    Seven years has passed since Pat is no more with us, although time flies but we still remember him in our minds and hearts very well.

    I am a big fan of Pat, partly because he used to be my inspiration during childhood spent in Europe. I understand your motive very well. Sadly, there will be a remake over every thing because it’s all about money in this world. You see that every song on earth has almost a remake due to lack of fantasy. So if it worked once, its easy to make a copy for sole profit.

    However, your father and the spirit of his movies will never be forgotten among the fans. I must say that the initial Karate Kid was so much better than the remake.

    There wont be any replacement of Pat, because he is unique.

  38. I just watched your Dads movie, he is a man that I cry everytime i finish watching his movies. I just love and honor him with so very much respect. I finally got on to see if I can talk with him or his family. I never knew he died, my condolenses to all of you. I watch the karate kid movies every time they come on, one after another. I am going to buy them all when my check comes,I just love him for who he was. A great man who put his heart and soul into what ever he did. I love the Karate movie because it showed me about his culture some what, which I love to see the respect he had for people. I am sitting here crying knowing he died, one of my things I wanted to do was meet him in person. I just pray one day we will meet in heaven. I will be so very honored to have met him, he is the most precious person I would of met and would of loved to have in my life. Be so proud of him and who he was in so many peoples eyes, esp. mine. I go thru my tv to see if hes on, and lately he is on from the first to his last karate movie. It ends sometimes 4 am but i rewatch it over and over till i fall asleep. I know he is in his families heart but know he has a special place in my heart too. I know not only us but many people loved him. Is there any way I can buy a photo of him, I am a christian and dont believe in idols but he is surely a person I look up too with much respect. I will treasure it with much honor, like the way i see him. To see how he grew up just tears my heart to pieces, as I cry now, I wish I knew him I would of wrote him to lift such a good man up to know he was loved as a good and honorable person. I am going on to see if I can put his pictures on my computer to rememeber him by seeing him. Well as you can see I truely loved him as an actor and a person who deserves all the respect he should always have. I thank you for listening to me and again my condolenses to the family. All of you are in my heart as your Father is and will ever be. Blessings to all of you..

  39. as for your article about the remake I will not watch any movie I promise to take his place. No one EVER WILL TAKE HIS PLACE. I won’t spend a nickle to any movie or person to try to take over a movie or man that was as good and honorable as He was. So you have me in your corner as many people are. We all loved him and will always love him even in spirit. I just wish I met him, it would of been the greatest thing to happen to me in my whole life. When he died a part of me went with him.I am not a freak please don’t think I am. I just respect him as a great man and actor. I don’t even watch any other karate movie , no one ever is good in my eyes, I don’t care how much they try to act, He’s the Best, Rest In Peace My Dear Mr. Miyagi..

  40. As I sit here writing this my 3 sons ages 4, 4 and 6 just watched karate kid 1-3. At the end of the first movie my oldest son asks “dad can I learn karate?”. And chances are this is what he will do with his sons when im gone. Gone but not forgotten RIP Mr Miyagi / Pat Morita.