Ralph Macchio was known for starring in the 1984 martial arts film The Karate Kid where a New Jersey teenager learns from his Okinawan native handyman how to defend himself against bullies using karate. Netflix’s hit series Cobra Kai continues to honor 80s movies as the story grows. But after the criticism came that The Karate Kid is too white, Ralph Macchio thinks the 80s classic was actually “ahead of its time”.
In The Karate Kid, the film’s main characters are all white, with the only diversity being Pat Morita’s signature character, Mr. Miyagi. After responding to recent criticism that the ’80s teen movie is too white and doesn’t dwell enough on Japanese cultural aspects, Ralph Macchio told Stellar Magazine (via FoxNews) that the film was “ahead of its time” for being a mainstream film that was about Japanese internment camps.
While it might seem odd that a movie centered around the teachings of a Japanese-leaning martial arts practice would have the majority of white people practicing it, every 5 Karate Kid movies find a way to adapt to Japanese customs (except 2010s The Karate Kid as happened in China). As Macchio said, the first Karate Kid The film mentioned how Mr Miyagi received the Medal of Honor while serving in the 442nd Infantry Regiment during World War II, where his wife and son died in childbirth while in Manzanar internment camp. The second film actually sent Mr. Miyagi and Daniel to Okinawa after learning that his father was dying.
The Karate Kid the films also talked about the importance of bonsai trees and spiritual practices when practicing karate. Same The Next Karate Kid Mr. Miyagi took Julie to a Buddhist monastery to inspire her with spiritual guidance. Cobra Kai also tries to honor the teachings of Mr. Miyagi throughout the show and had Daniel return to Okinawa in season three. So even though white people are the central characters, they still honor Japan as the birthplace of karate, which is significant compared to complete ignorance of this fact.
Pat Morita was truly the perfect man to play Mr. Miyagi. Although he introduced comedy to the role, he was also a powerful force in fight scenes and emotional scenes. can you believe he had to audition for The Karate Kid five times? Morita once recalled that they didn’t even consider his name playing the role of an immigrant who fought against the Japanese and lost his wife and son in an internment camp. His biggest credit at the time was his recurring comedic role as Arnold in Happy Days. But luckily, after the final audition, producer Jerry Weintraub realized he would have made a big mistake if he had never cast Morita. After all, Macchio told Stellar Magazine that he believes his big scene telling Daniel about his emotional past was what led to his Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination.
The Karate Kid was truly “ahead of its time” as Ralph Macchio put it for incorporating Japanese customs into a mainstream 80s film. The films helped introduce these themes and were continued in its Netflix spin-off series. You can watch Ralph Macchio in Cobra Kai on your Netflix subscription as well as read his memoirs Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me on the shelves now.