Sunday, November 27, 2005

Memento morita

This sucks. People who matter keep dying.

Noriyuki "Pat" Morita died at his home here in Las Vegas last Thursday. He was 73. His most famous role was also his most acclaimed: as Mr. Miyagi in The Karate Kid, he was the first Asian-American to be nominated for an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actor. (Interestingly, he lost to another Asian man: the late Haing S. Ngor, a Cambodian physician who made his acting debut in The Killing Fields. This must have been a little bittersweet, like when Will Smith lost a Best Actor Oscar in 2002 to Denzel Washington. Sadly, there are no other examples.) He would revisit the role of Mr. Miyagi in three more films. I don't know if he ever saw this off-Broadway musical, but at least he had the sense of humor to appreciate it.

He had a long and fruitful career, but heaven knows the kind of racism he must have endured in the stand-up comedy, television, and movie businesses when he got started. Aside from Mr. Miyagi, he was Arnold Takahashi, the restaurant owner on Happy Days, the voice of the emperor in both Mulan movies, and dozens of other supporting roles and guest appearances.

Oh, and he appears as Arnold in Weezer's "Buddy Holly" video.

Even in his later years, the man could enjoy a drink or two. I can't remember where I heard or read this story, but some lady recounted her brief meeting at a bar with the actor. Apparently he was drunk and hitting on her, and because of his fame she stayed and continued the conversation. Then, after pointing downward, he said "Whack on, whack off." She laughed and promptly left. (With a story that good, who cares if it's true?)

Rest in peace, Mr. Morita. I'll be practicing the crane technique in the backyard.


maisnon said...

But, Neel-san, remember that you must walk before you can run!

Neel Mehta said...

Good advice, Maisnon-sei.

I should point out my forgetfulness about last year's Oscars: Jamie Foxx lost Best Supporting Actor (for Collateral) to Morgan Freeman, then beat Don Cheadle as Best Actor (for Ray). Certainly I hope having multiple minority nominees is a trend rather than an anomaly.