He’s a Hollywood actor, businessman and family man. Yuji Okumoto starred in the 1986 film “Karate Kid 2” as the character Chozen, the antagonist to Ralph Macchio’s famous role. He currently resides in Seattle with his family and owns Kona Kitchen restaurant in North Seattle. He has been in other films since then, such as “Only the Brave” and also had a role in this summer’s blockbuster, “Inception”.
On August 21, Okumoto took time off of his busy schedule to be at the Wing Luke Asian Museum’s outdoor film screening of the “Karate Kid 2” at Hing Hay Park in Seattle. This reporter sits down with Okumoto during the screening and together, reflect on his time filming this movie that would become a pop culture icon.
Q: Does this event bring back any memories of filming the “Karate Kid 2”?
It just made me think of all the people I worked with…Pat [Morita, who played the role of Mr. Miyagi] was a real mentor to me. He was one of the pioneers as far as Asian American actors and I know he struggled a lot at the beginning of his career until he kind of broke through on Happy Days playing Arnold. I look back on him and know that acting doesn’t happen over night and the breaks don’t happen over night. It taught me perseverance.
Q: In your experience, what has it been like being an Asian American actor in Hollywood?
When I first started, which was back in 1980, it was a different time. There was still a lot of stereotyping. What I wanted to do as an actor was to always play characters I auditioned for and I wanted to play them with some sort of dignity and strength. I didn’t want to perpetuate a stereotype by playing a certain type of character.
Q: How do you balance your acting career and running your restaurant, Kona Kitchen?
It’s very difficult because it’s not only the restaurant and the acting. It’s having the children and the family and trying to balance all that stuff. I had to hold back a little bit on the acting because I decided to focus more on the restaurant and building that business up, so consequently I couldn’t go down to L.A. to audition as much but it’s a sacrifice well worth it. L.A. is a great place for acting but it’s not a great place for raising a family. I kind of miss it but I figure I’m going to segway more into the producing which you could do anywhere so I’m trying to start not only an Internet company that does 3D action, but also my own production company that does features.
Q: Is there anything you’d like children watching here today to take away from “Karate Kid 2”?
Don’t be a bully like my character! It’s funny because I’ve had kids come up to me and are like, “I want to be just like you when I grow up!” I’m thinking, is that a good thing? But what I interpreted from that was that they wanted to be a strong Asian American. We need strong Asian American characters out there, especially in movies. We’ve always been the gardener, nerd, dork, geek, or brainiac. So for years that’s what people thought of Asian Americans as. If they walk away from this and think, ‘I want to be somebody who’s a strong Asian American,’ I think that’s all I could say as for the kids walking away from here.