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‘Cobra Kai’ actor, co-owner of Seattle restaurant on how show became Netflix hit

(Clockwise from top L) Gianni Decenzo, Jacob Bertrand, Tanner Buchanan, Mary Mouser, Xolo Mariduena, Courtney Henggeler, Erik Amaya, Ralph Macchio, William Zabka, Martin Kove, Hayden Schlossberg, Jon Hurwitz and Josh Heald attend the premiere screening and conversation of YouTube Original's "Cobra Kai" Season 2 at The Paley Center for Media on April 22, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Amanda Edwards/Getty Images)

Yuji Okumoto, who you may know as Chozen from Karate Kid 2 and the hit show Cobra Kai now on Netflix, joined the Gee and Ursula Show to talk about the success of the show after its third season. Okumoto also owns Kona Kitchen, a local Seattle Hawaiian restaurant, with his wife Angie.

After playing the villain in Karate Kid 2, Okumoto says he was approached by a lot of people who would come up and insult him.

“There was all kinds of good things that were said to me,” he laughed. “But at the end of the day, I figured these are all compliments because that means I did my job. And if I can play a really great bad guy that everybody hates then I think that’s a tremendous compliment.”

He also said after the second movie was when the realization of just how many Karate Kid fans there are in the world him hit.

“After I filmed Karate Kid 2, I think then the realization kind of sunk in,” he said. “I had talked to Ralph [Macchio] and stuff, and he had talked about all the Karate Kid fans that came out for the first Karate Kid, and they would do the crane kick outside the theater and all that stuff. And I think at that time, they knew they had a hit. But until you’re kind of part of that, then you don’t realize the magnitude of how popular a movie like this is. I was just happy at the time to have a job and be working on a show, and with Karate Kid 2, we got to film in Hawaii, which is a huge plus.”

“I think after Karate Kid 2 came out then I realized, ‘Oh man, it’s really big.’ And I think the thing that was interesting, a lot of kids came up to me and said, ‘I started karate because I watched you’ and, you know, to think — at the time I was like, I’m a role model, but I was such a [jerk in the movie]. I don’t know if that’s good or bad, but as long as there’s something positive that came out of it, then that’s great.”

For Cobra Kai, Okumoto says he found out he’d be part of the project in September 2019.

“The producers, creators contacted me from Cobra Kai and, you know, prior to that so many people were hoping that I would be part of the Cobra Kai universe, and they would bring back Chozen,” he said.

He recalls being asked by fans over and over if he’d be in it, and he didn’t know.

“Then when I got the call, I had to deny to all these people that were asking me about Chozen,” he added. “But my biggest concern when I was first approached about the project was how Chozen would be portrayed. I just wanted to make sure they gave deference to his character and made his story line interesting.”

Okumoto had a conversation about the character’s development over a phone call, and he later sent his thoughts by email.

“Hats off to them,” he said. “They actually took the notes and incorporated into developing the character. And they really had a great grasp on the direction, which made my job lot easier. So I’m really blessed that I was able to work with a really great team of writers and creators over at Cobra Kai.

Why does Okumoto think the popularity of Karate Kid endures and resonates with so many people?

“I don’t know,” he replied. “I just, I think it has to do with the throwback. I think a lot of people are into nostalgia right now. And I think when the first season of Cobra Kai came out, you know, it was so well done. It was so different, so unique because they flipped that world around and kind of made Johnny the more sympathetic character and kind of made Daniel’s character kind of the bad guy. So I thought that’s an interesting take on the whole Cobra Kai world.”

“And I think when people watched the first season, granted, it was on a smaller platform, I think it was on YouTube Red initially, people, I think, really started to build this hype around the show because of nostalgia and because of the great writing and great characters,” he added. “And so when it moved on to Netflix, wow, then the whole thing just blew up.”

He said there’s also the aspect of choosing sides, and cheering for this side or that side.

“I think that in itself took that show to another level,” he said.

As far as Okumoto’s future with Cobra Kai, he says he’s not sure and does not know what the writers have in mind.

“I would love to be back in the fold again,” he said. “But it’s not up to me. It’s up to them how they perceive this character fitting into the storyline, so I have no idea at this time.”

So, is he team Daniel or team Johnny?

“Hey, I’ve got to go with my boy Daniel san. It’s Miyagi-Do. That’s my style,” Okumoto joked.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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