As fans of the Karate Kid franchise are aware, Tamlyn Tomita reprised her role as Daniel LaRusso’s ex-girlfriend Kumiko in the latest season of Cobra Kai. While the dancer is beloved by fans, Tomita revealed in a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times that she has had issues with the character. In particular, she was not fond of how Kumiko and the entirety of the 1986 film The Karate Kid Part II represented Okinawa, Japan.
The publication noted that the actress was “[b]orn in Okinawa to a Japanese American father and an Okinawan Filipina mother,” but grew up in Los Angeles, California.
Tomita Expressed That She Had Felt Frustrated With the Role
During the interview, Tomita spoke about her cultural identities and how they impacted her feelings toward Kumiko. She clarified that while at times she felt frustrated for being known for portraying the character, “she is still an integral and important part of [the actress].”
She shared similar sentiments regarding her momentary distaste for Peter Cetera’s song “Glory of Love,” which appeared on The Karate Kid Part II soundtrack, stating,
It goes in line with when I was sick and tired of Kumiko herself. But then when people would play it as my entrance music I’d go, “You know what? Who else has an entrance song, first of all … and who else has a more recognizable one?”
The 54-year-old also disclosed that she gave Cobra Kai’s co-creators and executive producers, Jon Hurwitz, Josh Heald, and Hayden Schlossberg, stipulations with how she wanted Kumiko and her storyline to be approached when they first reached out to her two years ago.
“I said I would love to, this would be so fun, but the only caveat is that because I’m older, because I’m a little bit more knowledgeable and I’m going to fight for it anyway — I need to be able to inject a truer picture of Okinawa,” stated the actress. “Because I didn’t know anything back then, and the only sense of Okinawa [in The Karate Kid Part II] is coming through [screenwriter] Robert Mark Kamen’s interpretation of his time spent in Okinawa. I know Pat [Morita who portrayed Mr. Miyagi] did as much as he could, but he’s a [second generation] Nisei of Japanese descent, which is different.”
Tomita Stated That She Helped Make Cobra Kai‘s Portrayal of Okinawa More Genuine
She went on to say that she made the effort to edit the script and “translate[d] things from Japanese to hōgen, or Uchinanchu, which is the Okinawan dialect.”
“And I also took it upon myself to go to the Okinawa Assn. of America and ask them for the correct Okinawan choreography to ‘Tinsagu nu Hana,’ which is the song that me and my mom made up the dance to in Karate Kid II, because I wasn’t choreographed for that section of the film. And in Cobra Kai you only see two seconds of it, but at least I got to inject as much Okinawan as I could,” continued the actress.
Later in the interview, she revealed that her scenes, like most of Cobra Kai, were filmed in Atlanta, Georgia. She stated that not being able to shoot in Japan inspired her “to bring three pieces of luggage with Okinawan artifacts and art that could color the world and the sets that [she] was on, to reflect what it means to be Okinawan.”
Tomita also noted that overall she appreciated how Kumiko was written for Cobra Kai, but did have a few issues. She mentioned that she did not believe “those three guys,” seemingly in reference to Heald, Hurwitz, and Schlossberg, “as young as they are, know how to speak as a woman and they didn’t consult [her]” on it.
She explained, however, she was aware she “had to serve the story.”
“I was just happy to be in service of that but also to serve the giving of the letters to Daniel-san. That’s what was important,” said Tomita. “And to know that Kumiko lives in the hearts of so many … I don’t need to write it, I don’t need to speak it. I think everybody gets to fill out the story for themselves. A certain look in their eyes will say, ‘I will love you, always.’ And I think that’s enough.”
To see Tomita’s performance as Kumiko, be sure to watch Cobra Kai Season 3, available on Netflix.