Few actors during the course of their career manage to embody multiple iconic characters. But that cannot be said about Pat Morita. Whether you know him as the beleaguered owner of Arnold’s Restaurant in one of television’s most influential sitcoms Happy Days or the role that is used as the title of this film about his life, Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid films, Pat Morita remained in the public eye for decades. But most of the time he viewed the world through the haze of alcohol, a disease that eventually would lead to his health failing and his death.
Directed and arranged by Kevin Derek, with the support and oversight of Morita’s 3rd wife and widow, Evelyn Guererro-Morita, More Than Miyagi: The Pat Morita Story attempts to walk us through the life of Pat. From his humble family beginnings, his decision to drop out of school to pursue comedy, his endless parade of guest spots on shows like MASH, Sandford and Son and Hawaii Five-O before landing his gig on Happy Days, and countless more after Happy Days was done for him. Known as the “Hip Nip”, Morita would play comedy clubs and bars before landing the career defining role of Mr. Miyagi – after director John G. Avildsen refused to initially even give him a test screen.
The film unfortunately doesn’t really live up to its own “More than Miyagi” name as over half the film centers around the Karate Kid series and interviews with the stars of those films along with some clips. The early parts of Pat’s life are merely glossed over with very little, if any at all, time devoted to how his life was and how he developed his standup. I’m not sure if it was a editorial choice, or that Pat’s children from his first 2 marriages didn’t like how much control over the narrative his 3rd wife and widow had. But their refusal to take part on the film (as the end title card states) leaves gaping holes in the story of Pat’s life that are never quite filled.
The film also chooses to spend a lot of time with Evelyn talking direct to camera, with uneven results. There’s one reoccurring segment around a NPR like radio show with 2 females host asking questions and himing and hahing through Evelyn’s responses that quite frankly is to close in tone and material to Saturday Night Live‘s classic “Schweddy Balls” skit that it immediately feels false and laughable. This also helps make the overall tone of the film feel like it should be a DVD special feature and not a theatrical endeavor.
In the end, Pat’s life is so fascinating in its own right that the audience can’t help but get sucked in for passages of time, despite the filmmaker’s constant lack of ability to deliver a compelling film out of that story. Pat Morita deserved a better eulogy.
- Release Date: 2/5/2021