Chris is an avid Doctor Who fan and budding screenwriter and novelist who found Cobra Kai much better than he thought it would be.
Even the villains we love from the movies we grew up with sometimes have more to them than meets the eye
I have written an article about Cobra Kai before. The only difference was that was three years ago when Season One debuted on YouTube Red and now I am writing about Season Three which has moved to Netflix, where it should have been to begin with in my opinion, but I digress. This particular article will be about the return of my favorite of Daniel LaRusso's three opponents, Chozen Toguchi, as played by the delightful Yuji Okumoto. And if any fan of the series reads this article, has not seen Season Three and doesn't want any spoilers, I would advise you to turn away right now.
In the Karate Kid Part Two, everyone's favorite human Yoda, Mr. Nariyoshi Miyagi, played by the late great Pat Morita, takes his buddy/student Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio, of course) to visit his homeland of Okinawa to say a final farewell to his dying father, he runs into his best friend/surrogate brother Sato (the late Danny Kamekona) who is intent to fight him to the death for stealing Yukie, the woman he was arranged to marry, and fleeing town four decades before. Sato's hotheaded, immature nephew Chozen, who is also his number one karate student, takes an immediate dislike to Daniel because he's Mr. Miyagi's student. As if all that isn't bad enough, Chozen and Daniel butt heads various times over the course of the film and it all comes to a head when a typhoon hits the night Mr. Miyagi and Sato are supposed to have their fight. When Daniel and Mr. Miyagi venture out in it to find Sato buried underneath the building he was in, Mr. Miyagi chops him out and takes him to the shelter, and as the three of them go, they see a little girl atop a poll who was ringing a bell to get people to safety (and whose name we would eventually find out on the show is Yuna). While Mr. Miyagi and Sato head back, Chozen rushes to Sato, whom he had assumed to be dead. Sato orders Chozen to help Daniel rescue little Yuna but he refuses to aid his enemy, so Sato helps Daniel rescue her himself and disowns Chozen.
At the O-bon dance at the end of the film, Chozen emerges during Daniel's girlfriend Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita)'s dance and threatens her with a knife unless Daniel comes and fights him to the death, during which Daniel has the chance to kill him but merely honks his nose. ("Daniel-san, for person with no forgiveness in heart, living even worse punishment than death.")
I had always loved the character Chozen Toguchi. I have a fascination with Asian characters and cultures to begin with, but Chozen was so badass and so cool and such a Bruce Lee movie worthy opponent, I almost wanted him to beat Daniel in the film, which is what makes the best film and TV villains anyway. When the first season of Cobra Kai came out, I had seen tweets from Yuji Okumoto saying that he had watched the show with his teenage daughter and they loved it. One day I tweeted and asked him, "If Chozen were to show up on the show, do you think he'd side with Johnny or Daniel?" To my surprise, he responded, "Chozen would side with Daniel since they were both trained in the Goju-Ryu karate style."
When he said this, I couldn't help but laugh. Chozen had it in for Daniel worse than Johnny Lawrence did in the original film and definitely seemed like the type of guy to hold a grudge. I also wondered if maybe Yuji did not know his most famous character that well. Later I found out that when he was cast in the movie he wrote up a back story for Chozen, so he knows Chozen better than anyone else.
Then I started to think about it. The whole point of the first season of the show was that while the first movie presented William Zabka's Johnny Lawrence as an arrogant rich bully, you did not know everything about him and why he acted the way he did so we're gonna show you and you're gonna sympathize with him, as we did. Redemption is a common theme of the show, as is turning stereotypical movie characters into actual human beings. That's part of the reason the show is so beloved. Maybe the idea that Chozen would have seen the error of his ways by now wasn't as far-fetched as I thought.
Chozen's uncle Sato, who taught him, was taught by Mr. Miyagi's father at his request. All the evil in Sato for those forty plus years before Mr. Miyagi returned to Okinawa was born out of anger and bitterness. After Mr. Miyagi saved his life Sato became a happier man and let go of his anger. Who says that can't run in a family?
I recently guested on a pop culture podcast called N E R D S hosted by a few old high school friends and we discussed Cobra Kai. When I mentioned I was most looking forward to Chozen's appearance, one of the hosts did not remember him so I described him as, "Basically Daniel LaRusso's Ivan Drago." And the last Creed
film confirmed that the seemingly superhuman and cold-as-stone Soviet boxer was human after all, why can't Chozen be?
As a result of this train of thought, when Netflix's first teeny teaser for Season 3 debuted last August and we heard Chozen's voice (which Yuji later stated he couldn't confirm at the time but which never fooled anybody, least of all me), I was elated because I knew he would have most likely turned over a new leaf. And he has.
In Season Three of the series, Daniel LaRusso visits the corporation he is partnered with in Tokyo to save his struggling car dealerships after the bad press about the school karate fight between his students at Miyagi-Do and the Cobra Kai students last season. When his efforts appear fruitless, he heads to his late mentor's homeland in Okinawa to clear his head and discovers his old home, Tomi Village, is now a shopping mall called Tomi Village Green. There he runs into his old flame, Kumiko (again played by Tamlyn Tomita, whom in addition to being wonderful on the show is still a very stunning lady), teaching dance to a bunch of kids. Joyful to be reunited with Daniel, Kumiko takes him back to her late aunt Yukie (Nobu McCarthy)'s house and in a very touching scene that got me a little misty, reads him Mr. Miyagi's final letter to Yukie a week before he passed away in 2011.
The next morning in a local bar they are joined by Chozen, whom Daniel is terrified of because he is still scowling at him as Yuji Okumoto does like a master, and is mostly as stoic as his Rocky counterpart Drago. Kumiko is smiling and chipper as she tells him she called Chozen to come join them. Their death fight was a long time ago, she says, and Chozen has changed. When Chozen takes Daniel to his home at Kumiko's request, which includes a dojo since he is the Japanese Miyagi-Do instructor, Daniel tells him a story about one of Mr. Miyagi's ancestors and says Mr. Miyagi taught him everything he knew. Chozen scoffs and the two men spar a few times--one of which I understand Okumoto tore his hamstring during and refused to get therapy for until he got back to Seattle, to his credit--before Chozen does a special technique that paralyzes Daniel's limbs and appears ready to do a fatal chop on Daniel ("I have waited a long time for this!") but instead delivers it half way and then honks his nose, much like Daniel did to him thirty years ago, and bursts out laughing. Here we realize Chozen was just playing around because Daniel had not been around him in decades, as Kumiko, who is a very kind-hearted woman anyhow, had hence Daniel thought he was still a sneering mad dog killer and he was not about to pass up having a little fun with that assumption. He then explains to Daniel his limbs were numb just now because he applied secret Miyagi-Do pressure points to him ("If an enemy insists on war, you take away their ability to wage it.") and promises to show Daniel how to do it.
After he does this, when they say their farewells to each other, Chozen explains when he lost their fight, he tried to kill himself but Sato, who had not given up on his surrogate son of a nephew after all, saved him. From there, Sato was determined to show him what it was like to truly be an honorable man, as opposed to the ego and pride young Chozen mistook for honor in the second film, and made his nephew a better person. Recognizing a true change in his one-time deadly enemy, Daniel forgives Chozen, which clears his conscience and the two men part as friends with great respect and a better understanding of each other, which causes Chozen to give Daniel his scroll with the secret of the pressure point technique on it.
All of this was very well-written and believable. Chozen may have been a bad dude in 1985 but as the saying goes, with age comes wisdom. As great a villain as young Chozen was, adult Chozen is much better as a wise karate master. Everything he did for Daniel on the show, he owed to him and he knew it. Just before the two men parted, Chozen referred to Mr. Miyagi as a man of great honor and one he hoped to emulate.
In Chozen's middle age, he's off to a good start. He has become a man both Mr. Miyagi and his uncle Sato can be proud of. I hope to see some more of him before the show ends.