WARNING: The following contains spoilers from Season 3 of Cobra Kai.
The third season of Cobra Kai has been out for a few weeks already on Netflix and a lot unfolded over the course of its ten episodes. Familiar faces returned, dynamics between some of the characters changed for the better while others changed for the worst, and through a sequence of flashbacks, audiences got a glimpse at the backstory of the original (and current) Cobra Kai sensei, John Kreese (Martin Kove).
While it’s known from the original films that Kreese is a veteran who served in the Vietnam War, audiences got to see how this period of his life unfolded as it’s shown what motivated him to join the army, how he learned the three core lessons of Cobra Kai, and how the dojo even got its name. It’s clear to see that Kreese has been traumatized from his time in the army; a symptom common in many veterans that society is slowly but surely starting to understand, as mental health continues to be explored. However, trauma is not an excuse for manipulating and abusing those around you, as everyone has a choice in how they carry themselves forward. Instead of humanizing his character, his backstory only reinforces the monster that Kreese has become.
Cobra Kai has proven itself to be a master at balancing the old and the new. If there was such an opportunity to use that mastery to tell someone’s backstory, why not tell Mr. Miyagi’s? His past is a journey waiting to be explored to see how his experiences molded him into being the kind, wise, and humorous human being that he was. What were his first days in America like? How did he adjust? How did he meet his wife? What was the day like when the two were sent to Manzanar? What led to Mr. Miyagi joining the 442nd? What was his bond like with his fellow soldiers, who were probably mostly Nisei (second generation Japanese Americans)? How did the moment unfold when he learned that his wife and infant son died at childbirth? How did he carry himself through the remainder of the war after the fact?
There are plenty of reasons why Mr. Miyagi’s backstory should be told. For one thing, even after three seasons, there’s still not a ton of Asians and Asian Americans in the Cobra Kai series, and the few that are there don’t have a ton of depth to them. Another reason is that if there is anything worth gaining from seeing Kreese’s backstory is that it means more to see it than hear it told (show not tell, if you will). The scene from the original Karate Kid film where a drunk Mr. Miyagi reveals his story to Daniel (Ralph Macchio) is moving in of itself; so much to where it earned the actor, Pat Morita, an Academy Award nomination. Imagine what it would be like to actually see that story unfold.
Lastly, there still aren’t a ton of stories in mainstream media about the inexcusable incarceration that thousands of Japanese Americans — including Morita — went through during World War II, never mind the bravery and heroism displayed by the 442nd Infantry Regiment; one of the most decorated units in the U.S. Army. In a time where history is sadly repeating itself in the form of families being separated and kept in cages and Asian Americans experiencing xenophobic attacks, stories like Miyagi’s need to be told onscreen now more than ever before.
No one can ever capture Mr. Miyagi’s spirit the way Morita did. However, there’s not a doubt in my mind that there are plenty of young actors out there who can closely capture the character’s essence from his younger years.
Mr. Miyagi’s backstory is one worth telling in the Cobra Kai series. However, even if that doesn’t happen on this show, the fact that the three co-creators are looking into possibly expanding the franchise’s universe, perhaps there’s hope yet. If that winds up being the case, here’s a tip for the trio: Hire more Asians and Asian Americans to work in front of and behind the camera.
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