How 'Karate Kid' Reboot 'Cobra Kai' Pays Tribute to Pat Morita

The Karate Kid, Part II  and inset of William Zabka  and Ralph Macchio - Getty-H 2018
Columbia/Photofest; John Lamparski/WireImage

When Ralph Macchio signed on to reprise his role as Daniel LaRusso in YouTube Red's Karate Kid reboot Cobra Kai, he was determined to pay tribute to his character's beloved mentor Mr. Miyagi, played by the late Pat Morita.

"It was important to me that Pat's legacy was not lost, even though the whole concept was about the rivalry between Daniel and Johnny Lawrence [played by William Zabka]," Macchio told The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Cobra Kai's Tuesday night premiere at New York's Tribeca Film Festival. "We didn't want the human element of the show to get lost, and that human element really stems from Mr. Miyagi."

He continued: "We're not here without Pat Morita's performance in that film. The heart and soul of the Karate Kid universe are the teachings of Mr. Miyagi."

According to Macchio, Mr. Miyagi's name "is peppered throughout the series." Viewers will also be hit with frequent reminders of the martial arts master "through dialogue and, obviously, his teachings," the actor added.

Early on in the series, Daniel — who comes to a personal crossroads after his legendary feud with Johnny is reignited — picks up a framed news article about Mr. Miyagi and says to himself, "Wish you were here to give me some of that Miyagi wisdom right now."

When the series begins, Daniel is now a successful car dealership owner and a married father of two. "As an adult, my character has lost his focus a bit and needs to recalibrate," Macchio said. "You feel the void in his life of not having his human Yoda anymore. We all want that wisdom. It was important that was infused in adult Daniel's journey, as well as in what he hands down to his kids."

Morita, who died of kidney failure at age 73 in 2005, will also appear onscreen in Cobra Kai. Exec producer Jon Hurwitz told THR that the series includes never-before-seen footage of Mr. Miyagi from the original 1984 movie and its sequels. 

"We were able to find some 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. You will see Pat onscreen," Hurwitz explained. "We still have a treasure trove from the movies, all of the dailies and everything. It's an interesting look back."

Hurwitz — who wrote, produced and directed Cobra Kai with partners Josh Heald (Hot Tub Time Machine) and Hayden Schlossberg (Harold and Kumar) — went on to say that Mr. Miyagi's presence in the revival is not just for nostalgia's sake, but because it is "an essential part of the narrative."

"There is no Karate Kid without Mr. Miyagi and for Daniel's character, Mr. Miyagi helped him become a man, become an adult. And his wisdom lives on throughout everything that Daniel does," Hurwitz said. "From a character standpoint, it's very interesting to see how Daniel's handling himself without Miyagi's wisdom."

Cobra Kai will be available to stream on YouTube Red on May 2.