If the original Karate Kid movies had an emotional center, it came in the form of Mister Miyagi — the diminutive master sensei played by the late Pat Morita, who guided Daniel LaRusso through enigmatic tasks that taught the bullied underdog as much about life as about martial arts.
Morita (and Mister Miyagi with him) may be gone, but his guidance hasn’t departed the franchise. As YouTube Red prepares to reboot The Karate Kid with next week’s debut of Cobra Kai, Daniel himself (Ralph Macchio) says the show has found subtle ways not only to commemorate what Morita meant to the movies, but even to incorporate his appearance into series itself.
Macchio told The Hollywood Reporter that Morita’s name will be “peppered throughout the series,” and that his presence suffuses Daniel’s ongoing inner struggle to pare back all the mental clutter that has piled up in a contented adulthood.
Set in the present day, with both Daniel and Johnny all grown up but still living in the same San Fernando Valley town where their original duel played out, Mister Miyagi, "through dialogue and, obviously, his teachings,” said Macchio, will help Daniel focus on the things that truly matter as he and Johnny rekindle their old rivalry.
Morita will even appear on screen, Jon Hurwitz, Cobra Kai’s executive producer, told THR, explaining that leftover footage from the original films has given the creative team an abundance of “interesting angles and interesting shots.”
“If you're really familiar with Karate Kid, you're going to see things from 1984 that you've never seen before,” Hurwitz said. “You will see Pat on-screen. We still have a treasure trove from the movies, all of the dailies and everything.”
Why is it so important to tie the reboot — a web TV series that unfolds over 10 episodes, with the potential for a second season — to the original feature films? Much owes to the casting of Macchio and Zabka, which invites Cobra Kai to iterate on old themes the movies established long ago.
"It was important to me that Pat's legacy was not lost,” Macchio explained. “…We didn't want the human element of the show to get lost, and that human element really stems from Mr. Miyagi.”
Both Macchio and Zabka are now in their 50s, which places them near Morita’s age when the original Karate Kid first released in 1984. For Cobra Kai, the two grown-up rivals each have strayed from the ideals the movies taught — albeit in ways that manifest very differently: Daniel is a slick, perhaps too-contented, middle-class car salesman; while Johnny is…well, he’s just kind of washed up.
Hurwitz told THR that Mr. Miyagi isn’t simply being brought to the reboot as a fan service, but because he fits the narrative. “Mr. Miyagi helped [Daniel] become a man…[a]nd his wisdom lives on throughout everything that Daniel does,” he said, hinting that Daniel could probably use some of his old sensei’s principled focus as he squares off, once more, against his old bully.
We're guessing that means Johnny, then, will have to find whatever new jolt of inspiration he can muster on his own. It'll likely come in the form of his new dojo and a new generation of students, who look up to him as a capable tough guy — one who's unafraid to strike first.
Does the web reboot of The Karate Kid have you practicing your crane kicks? Better perfect them soon, because Daniel, Johnny, and (yes) Mr. Miyagi all will be making their long-awaited return when Cobra Kai hits YouTube Red beginning May 2.