Actor Danny Kamekona: “[T]here was always something that pulled me back to Japan.” (Hawai‘i Herald archives)
Actor Danny Kamekona: “[T]here was always something that pulled me back to Japan.” (Hawai‘i Herald archives)

Arnold T. Hiura
Reprinted from Nov. 1, 1985, Hawai‘i Herald

Editor’s note: Had he not died unexpectedly in 1996 at the still-young age of 60, you can be sure that actor Danny Kamekona would have joined his huge ‘ohana at the Japanese Cultural Center of Hawai‘i earlier this year to commemorate the arrival 150 years ago of his family’s patriarch — and Kamekona’s paternal grandfather — Tokujiro Sasaki Sato, and his fellow Gannenmono.

In 1985, during production of the film “Karate Kid II” in Windward O‘ahu with actors Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, Ralph Macchio, Nobu McCarthy and Tamlyn Tomita, former Hawai‘i Herald editor Arnold Hiura had the opportunity to interview Danny Kamekona and learned of the actor’s connection to the “First-Year People.”

Danny Kamekona and his wife Michiko (far right) and Sen. Duke Kawasaki (far left) at a reception for actor “Pat” Morita (second from left) and his wife Yuki. (Photo by Arnold Hiura)
Danny Kamekona and his wife Michiko (far right) and Sen. Duke Kawasaki (far left) at a reception for actor “Pat” Morita (second from left) and his wife Yuki. (Photo by Arnold Hiura)

The following is a reprint of Arnold’s 1985 story.

Although his is a very familiar face to Hawai‘i audiences, some people may have difficulty explaining exactly where they have seen Danny Kamekona’s handsome, cosmopolitan features. Part of the problem may be that, over the past 16 years, Kamekona has done everything from modeling for Liberty House (today, Macy’s), to acting in a variety of stage, film and television roles. He has played both Polynesian and Asian characters in the original “Hawai‘i Five-0,” “Magnum, P.I.” and a variety of other programs, and may be best known to some as the father in a series of popular Gas Company commercials.

Going on 50, Kamekona is now in the midst of playing the biggest screen part in his life. As “Sato,” he plays the principal “heavy” opposite star Noriyuki “Pat” Morita in the highly publicized “Karate Kid II,” now being filmed on the Windward coast of O‘ahu.

During a rare day off, Kamekona talked to the Herald about his background, his career and working with Morita on “Karate Kid.” His voice was strained and weak, strangely at odds with his husky build.

“Lost my voice the other day,” he explains in a hoarse whisper, “You try kiai (martial arts yell expressing fighting spirit) for five hours!” He cannot suppress a hearty laugh at his own plight, in spite of the obvious discomfort to his throat. His loss of voice, combined with bad weather and the illness of co-star Ralph Macchio, is what earned the entire cast this day off.

Laughing through the pain, Kamekona comically describes how they had to shoot the same scene over and over again for five hours because of camera angles and a variety of other miscues. The scene called for him to let out an all-out, blood-curdling kiai while breaking a board with his hands. The seemingly endless retakes took its natural toll on his voice, not to mention his hands.

One-half Hawaiian, one-quarter Chinese and one-quarter Japa-
nese, Kamekona is a perfect representative of Hawai‘i’s cosmopolitan mix of races. He explains that, in an incredible irony, he should rightfully be named Sato, the name he assumes in the film. His paternal grandfather, Tokujiro Sato, was one of the Gannenmono, the first group of Japanese immigrants who arrived in Hawai‘i aboard the Scioto on June 19, 1868. Like other Gannenmono, Tokujiro Sato made a life for himself in Hawai‘i, eventually marrying a Hawaiian woman named Kamekona.

As Kamekona’s grandfather’s name was long and somewhat awkward for an Island society as yet unfamiliar with Japanese names, Tokujiro was shortened to “Toko” for convenience. Kamekona’s nisei father, Daniel, in turn became known to his peers as “Dan Toko.” Thus, in a typically Hawaiian way, the family’s legal name of Sato had faded out of practical usage.

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