There have been many movies that have had a lasting impact on what would seem like an endless landscape of the pop culture horizon; but none have been as impactful as The Karate Kid. The 1984 classic (which resulted in many sequels and a remake) centered around a bullied teenager from New Jersey; who was having trouble fitting in to his new California home. Daniel is befriended by the handy man that works at the apartment complex that he and his mother have recently moved into. The handy man turns out to be a skilled martial artist and agrees to train Daniel to help him protect himself from the cluster of teenage hooligans that have tormented him. The bond ends up being the best thing for both the teacher and the student.
The movie’s emotional highs and lows, comedic fun and action have caused most of the world to have fallen in love with what is now an 80s classic and one of the most beloved movies of all time. One specific truth to this movie, as well as many movies and TV shows is that the actors that portray certain characters (and act in certain scenes) have the storyline hit too close to home. This is the case for the titular character of Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid franchise. As a Japanese American, despite his sickness early on in his life, joined his Japanese American family in an interment camp in the United States during WWII. During this time, many Japanese Americans were confined to internment camps while members of their family were fighting for the United States Army in Europe, Italy, southern France and Germany. The 442nd Regiment Combat Team infantry unit was composed almost entirely of soldiers who were Japanese Americans (primarily from Hawaii). With the motto “Go for Broke”, you can see why the 14,000 men that served in the 442nd Regiment earned 9,486 Purple Hearts, eight Presidential Unit Citations, and found 21 of its members receiving Medals of Honor.
Most of the Japanese Americans that fought in WWII were Nisei. A Nisei is a term in the Japanese language used in America to specify the children born in the US to Japanese-born immigrants (which were called Issei); while their grandchildren of the Japanese-born immigrants are called Sansei. These terms are based on the the Japanese words representing the numbers 1 (ichi), 2 (ni), and 3 (san). The immigrant males, shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7th, 1941), were initially categorized as 4C aka enemy aliens (who were not subject to the draft) which was followed months after the attack on Pearl Harbor by President Roosevelt giving the military the authority to create internment camps for people of Japanese ancestry. This forced relocation from their residences to guarded relocation camps where more than 110,000 people from the West Coast (where two thirds were born in the US) were housed and set up martial law in Hawaii (due to the large population of citizens of Japanese history).
In the movie, Mr. Miyagi reveals that he served in the 442nd Regiment Combat Team ofthe United States Army (receiving many medals during his service). This was revealed when Daniel showed up to his house and found a drunken Mr. Miyagi celebrating an ‘anniversary’. It was revealed to be the anniversary of the dual loss of his wife and newborn son due to complications that arose during her childbirth at the Manzanar interment camp while he was in Europe serving in the 442nd Infantry during WWII. This extremely deep moment, brought a deeper reality to the Miyagi character but on the deeper scheme of things, shined a depressing light onto the reality of not only war but the interment camps which are a truly dark part of US history.
Featured Image: The Karate Kid image by and accredited to Helgi Halldórsson from Reykjavík, Iceland – Karate Kid, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=33780803
Pat Morita 1971 publicity photo by and accredited to George E. Marienthal Enterprises – eBay item photo front photo back, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25183341
President Truman and other dignitaries saluting during the President’s review of the 442nd Regimental image by and accredited to Abbie Rowe, 1905-1967, Photographer https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/U.S._National_Archives_and_Records_Administration”. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration”, U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, Public Domain.
USS Arizona attack during the Attack on Pearl Harbor image attributed to Unknown – This media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 295992.This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43702
Denson Relocation Camp (Umbrella girl) by Tom Parker – Photograph by Tom Parker for Department of the Interior, War Relocation AuthorityThis media is available in the holdings of the National Archives and Records Administration, cataloged under the National Archives Identifier (NAID) 539345. Converted from .gif to .jpg and border cropped before upload., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4482065
Ron Howard and Pat Morita Happy Days press photo by and accredited to ABC Television Press Relations – http://www.ebay.com/itm/HAPPY-DAYS-RON-HOWARD-PAT-MORITA-JIUJITSU-ABC-TV-PHOTO-/350265543197, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25235637