In Season Three of this hit Netflix show, reformed villain Chozen Toguchi showed up and stole his episode. Two seasons later he returned to steal the whole show
Disclaimer: Season Five spoilers.
In 2018, YouTube Red premiered a little show called Cobra Kai, a continuation of the Karate Kid films of the 1980s which I assumed would either be a guilty pleasure or terrible and I ended up really enjoying. I'm not going to get into the back story of how the show came to be because I wrote several articles about it already.
One of those articles detailed the return of Okinawan karate villain Chozen Toguchi, played by the awesome Yuji Okumoto, in Season Three when the show had moved to Netflix where it belonged. It was a one or two episode role but it was wonderful because Toguchi kept up the pretense of being angry with his old rival Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) but in reality he was just playing with him until he was able to win a sparring match between them and honk his nose like LaRusso did to him thirty years before. And in hindsight, Chozen was genuinely sorry for causing their rivalry all those years ago and trying to kill someone is not as easy to forgive as if he'd just spilled milk all over Daniel so you could understand his rationale. However, at the end of last season when it appeared Daniel and former rival now ally Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) were defeated by Cobra Kai for good, Daniel called in Chozen to help him take down last season's antagonist Terry Silver (Thomas Ian Griffith) for good, and Chozen agreed.
On the surface, this might seem like an odd move because Chozen was never involved in the war with Cobra Kai before but it actually makes a lot of sense. Chozen was taught the Goju-Ryu Miyagi-Do style of karate (which was always very important to him, even when he didn't have his head on straight) from his uncle Sato (the late Danny Kamekona), Daniel's mentor, Mr. Nariyoshi Miyagi's (the late Pat Morita), best friend. They in turn both learned their karate from Mr. Miyagi's father so Chozen is just as involved with the war as Daniel in a way, plus he knows a more aggressive style of Miyagi-Do than Daniel does.
In addition, when he sees Terry Silver spar for the first time, he recognizes the style of karate as Master Kim Sun-Yung's style of Tang Soo Do, a style based on deception. He tells Daniel that Sato and Master Kim were acquainted since they both taught their styles to the U.S. military, but that Sato disliked Master Kim (presumably because he always tried to teach Chozen and his other students about honor and there was no honor in Master Kim's style). In that respect, Chozen is the perfect ally for Daniel, despite never having met the man before he knows how Silver operates right off the bat. In fact, during a confrontation between Daniel and Silver at a country club when Chozen has joined Daniel and his cousin Louie and his employee Anoush for a game of golf, Silver offers Daniel the opportunity to stand down and says, "You're playing with fire, Danny Boy." To which Chozen responds, "And I am gasoline. BOOM!"
Unsurprisingly, while over the course of the season Chozen and Silver are on a collision course, Okumoto builds up a great hero-villain rapport with Thomas Ian Griffith, like Chozen is the David Tennant Doctor to Griffith's John Simm Master. The two actors had never performed together before, although coincidentally Okumoto played the husband to Griffith's wife Mary Page Keller in the Disney Channel film Johnny Tsunami and its sequel. But much like so many other unexpected dream teams from the franchise this show gives us, you'd never know that. You'd think Chozen and Silver had been sworn enemies the last thirty years the way Okumoto and Griffith played off each other. Unsurprising since they're both very charismatic and talented men. And when they had their inevitable clash this season, I likened it to Godzilla vs. Kong.
While Chozen is living with the LaRussos, Daniel's levelheaded but now exasperated wife Amanda (Courtney Henggeler, who is a delight this season as always)'s patience is tested by Chozen, whose Okinawan habits as well as his karate annoy her because she thought Daniel was supposed to be done with all this. But once Amanda is given a rude awakening about how much trouble the master manipulator Silver caused Daniel in the past by her cousin and Daniel's close friend Jessica Andrews from the third movie (Robyn Lively), she gradually warms up to Chozen. She realizes that as long as he is with them, his goal is not only to protect Daniel but everyone in his family, and he becomes a loyal, trusted friend to the LaRussos. He even offers a good word of advice to Daniel's daughter Samantha (Mary Mouser) the night before a qualifying match in a much bigger tournament than the usual All-Valley tourney on the show.
Speaking of someone Chozen becomes a good friend to on the show, when Daniel initially goes to his former rival and now somewhat reluctant ally, Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka), Johnny is having family problems since his son Robby (Tanner Buchanan) and his top karate student Miguel Diaz (Xolo Mariduena) are sworn enemies and he is trying to unite them to start a family with Miguel's Mom Carmen (Vanessa Rubio), he refuses to get back into the fight with Cobra Kai which he himself started. However, he changes his mind when he sees how badly Silver roughs Daniel up. Presumably Daniel coming up with a solution to his problem with Miguel and Robby by having them fight it out once and for all had something to do with that as well. Johnny goes with Chozen to one of the many dojos Cobra Kai now has under the Lex Luthor-style billionaire's leadership to confront Silver but are instead confronted by his right hand lady, Kim Da-Eun (Alicia Hannah-Kim, who is no slouch as she assumes the role of Cobra Kai's Evil-Lyn), Master Kim's granddaughter and her band of Way of the Fist senseis and back off. But before this happens, Toguchi and Lawrence bond first by comparing how they bullied Daniel back in the day.
I expected Johnny to spit out his Coors Banquet when Chozen told him he fought Daniel to the death but he instead sarcastically asks if Chozen is a ghost. I did not take into consideration that deep down Johnny really does respect Daniel, which brings me to the second way he bonds with Chozen, by comparing who saw Daniel perform the most impressive feat. In addition, when he reveals to Daniel, Amanda and Chozen that Carmen is pregnant, they all go out for a night on the town and Johnny confides in Chozen that he was haunted by Daniel's defeating him in the first movie and that he shouldn't have focused on the past but, looking at Carmen, on the present and what was right in front of him. Daniel has told the group of his history with Chozen by now so Chozen says, "We are same." and confides in Johnny he is jealous that Johnny has Carmen and that he is in love with Daniel's former girlfriend, Kumiko (Tamlyn Tomita, and considering she was and still is a beautiful woman, what young man in the 80s who saw the second movie wasn't in love with her?) but is reluctant to act upon his feelings because of how badly he treated her when they were young. When Johnny spills the beans to Daniel about this, Daniel is surprised but gives his blessing since he is happily married now and because Kumiko was the person who told him Chozen had changed to begin with, hence she understood he was genuinely sorry for their past, Which reminds me, in the third season it was implied by Chozen that it was his uncle Sato who made him a better person but apparently Kumiko had a hand in that as well. And considering what a great friend he'd been to Daniel all season, that was the least Daniel could do, although it makes one wonder if Kumiko was the main source of Daniel and Chozen's feud the whole time. And much like with Okumoto and Griffith, while Johnny and Chozen quickly become chums, Okumoto and William Zabka have awesome chemistry together. In fact, the scene I spoke of where they bond over Daniel reminded me of the first time Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker bonded in Rush Hour.
I had implied in the beginning of this article that Okumoto stole the show as Chozen this season, as I always suspected he would if he returned. How he did this was, when he is interviewed in real life, California-born Okumoto seems like a genuinely nice, friendly man with a very good sense of humor and a lot of that shows in his performance as Chozen. Chozen is a badass karate sensei all right but he can reason with friends when he has to, he can be aggressive as well as wise and he has no fear of Terry Silver when almost everybody else does. In addition, he can make us laugh by crying at 90-Day Fiancee (which we realize later has a certain significance when he reveals he loves Kumiko).
In Season Three, he told Daniel he wants to be like Mr. Miyagi. Not only is Chozen very much like Mr. Miyagi, with a bit more of an edge, at times Okumoto is very much like Pat Morita in his performance which, since like Macchio, Zabka, Tomita and almost everybody else in the franchise he was very fond of Morita, should please him. For instance, in the first film when Daniel realizes his new friend knows karate, he asks what kind of belt Mr. Miyagi has, he replies, "Canvas, JC Penney, $3.98. You like?" And when Chozen gives all the kids a lesson about protecting an Okinawan rail bird egg, he displays a twelve pack and Miguel asks if they're real bird eggs, he replies, "No, Trader Joe, $3.29. Take egg!" Because of all this, I think this gentleman deserves not only a spin-off (which I think should be either a feature film or a limited series since Yuji runs a Hawaiian restaurant in Seattle with his wife) but an Emmy nomination in 2023 as well. But he's not the only franchise villain to make a reformed return this season.
The third film in 1989 was pretty much carried by Terry Silver, whose coked-up campiness was fun as hell and had to be seen to be believed. The young man Silver hired to fight Daniel in the tournament in the film, Mike Barnes, played by Sean Kanan, is often overlooked by fans and for good reason.
Screenwriter Robert Mark Kamen, who wrote the first three movies in the franchise, admitted that he did not put any effort into writing the third film and did it simply for the money. So Mike Barnes, bad boy of karate, was not nearly as fleshed out as he should have been, so he was not as interesting as Johnny or Chozen. That is not the fault of actor Sean Kanan, however because his performance suggested he really was trying to be as menacing to Daniel as those two were. As a result of that, I thought he should have followed Griffith to come on the show because he needed fleshing out more than any other character in the franchise and I knew if anyone could flesh him out, this show's three head writers could. And I wasn't wrong.
I had thought after the first two seasons that the show was leading up to a big battle between Daniel, Johnny and Chozen against John Kreese, Silver and Mike Barnes and while I may have been right about the former team, I never expected Silver to betray Kreese and for the writers to not even make us sure what side Barnes would be on.
In addition, I had tweeted to Kanan after Season Three that I could not see Mike Barnes having a Chozen-style redemption (forgetting that after Season One I had tweeted to Yuji Okumoto asking whose side Chozen would be on, he replied Daniel's since they knew the same Goju-Ryu style of karate and I couldn't see that at the time either). I'd also seen Kanan reply on Twitter to a user (whose handle escapes me) who tweeted to Ralph Macchio that he couldn't wait for Mike Barnes to show up and kick Daniel's ass, "Maybe Mike would side with Daniel today, did you ever think of that?" While I figured we'd eventually see Mike on the show, up until all this happened, I never thought I'd question what side he'd be on but once I saw what a great man Chozen grew into, Kanan's questioning what side Mike would be on made a lot more sense.
In addition, the writers are very good at making the fans think one thing and doing the opposite to fool them, so once a photo of Barnes on the show in Season Five leaked but he was not in the trailer or on the posters, I knew he was most likely not siding with Terry Silver. But Daniel thought he would at first.
At one point in said scene at the country club, Silver told Daniel and Chozen he had more old friends to call upon but not as many as Silver did (referring not actually to Barnes, but Kim Da-Eun which was another example of the writers fooling fans). Daniel and Chozen then seek out the third of Daniel's triumvirate of karate opponents, Mike Barnes. After a misunderstanding when they do, Daniel discovers that Mike is not a karate assassin for Terry but rather co-runs Agoura Fine Furnishings with his wife who inherited it from her father.
Daniel is relieved to discover Mike would never take a call from Silver because, like Chozen, he came to regret the torment he caused Daniel in the past and is happy to bury the hatchet with him. Unfortunately, Chozen arrives and mistakes the playful sparring they're doing as genuine fighting and gets in a fight with Barnes and his employees, breaking a table in the process. When Daniel clears up the misunderstanding, Mike gives Daniel Silver's attorney's name and number to help them bring him down and overcharges Chozen for a couch he likes by $800 (which, considering he broke a table and roughed up innocent warehouse workers seems fair to me). Unfortunately Silver finds out, as the mad genius often does, and burns down Mike's store in retaliation.
In the final episode, Mike is revealed to have hijacked a limousine Daniel, Chozen and Johnny are riding in because he believes Daniel to be responsible for his store burning down. When it is revealed to him that it was Silver, Daniel promises to help Mike and Mike vows to go fight him. Johnny and Chozen like the idea, though Daniel tries to reason with them since they're all drunk and he suspects Barnes to be on something stronger than booze but they strand him since he doesn't want to come. I think it's funny out of these four men, Daniel LaRusso (arguably the most hotheaded one of them all, and Daniel, Johnny, Chozen and Mike can all be pretty hotheaded) was the voice of reason, but I digress.
In an Avengers Assemble moment, Johnny, Chozen and Mike gather to fight Silver and his senseis at his house and the last we see of Barnes is him helping a badly bloody Chozen out of the limousine as they all watch Silver get arrested outside the Cobra Kai dojo. Mike also steals a Rembrandt from Silver as the ultimate retaliation for burning down his store. And Silver is such a despicable bad guy all of this season, you can hardly blame Mike for that.
Amazingly, all of this works wonderfully. You know Terry Silver is a villain to tangle with when all three of Daniel's former opponents, including the one he personally hired, come together to defeat him. And other than a brief fight when they meet, Johnny and Mike click pretty well together. Even after the misunderstanding and overcharging him for the couch Chozen and Mike have great chemistry together too, although since Yuji Okumoto and Sean Kanan are good friends that's hardly surprising.
What was surprising to me was that Barnes had changed so much since the third movie but the whole point of the first season was that Johnny was trying to be a better person. And if Johnny can change and Chozen can change, everybody can change (Rocky 4, which Johnny also quoted this season).