I WAS A SIMPLE MAN
(director/writer: Christopher Makoto Yogi; cinematographer: Eunsoo Cho; editor: Christopher Makoto Yogi: music:Alex Zhang Hungtai, Pierre Guerineau; cast: Constance Wu(Grace),Steve Iwamoto (Masao Matsuyoshi), KanoaGoo (Gavin), Chanel Akiko Hirai (Kati), Tim Chiou (Adult Masao), Boonyanudh Jiyarom (Young Grace), Nelson Lee (Mark), Kyle Kosaki (Young Masao), Alexa Bodden (Young Kati), Angelica Quin (Doctor), Alex Zhang Hungtai(Jimmie); Runtime: 100; MPAA Rating: NR; producers; Christopher Makoto Yogi, Sarah S. Kim, Matthew Petock, Yamato Cibulka: Strand Releasing; 2021)
“Endearing arthouse ghost story.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Christopher Makoto Yogi (“August at Akiko’s”) is the Honolulu-born writer-director of this contemplative ode to loneliness film, an endearing arthouse ghost story set in the pastoral countryside of the north shore of Oahu, Hawaii, with spectacular sunsets, beaches and vistas. It plays out as a slow moving melancholy meditation on the disappointments in life, as an edgy indie with overwhelming scenes of things felt in the heart of a sensitive man who is judged to be insensitive. In it, an old man’s memory, as he’s dying, blends together things about his bittersweet life since living in Hawaii during the Second World War until the present situation, with an Hawaii overrun by crass tourists (a critique kept in check).
It tells of a pigheaded elderly terminally ill dying man’s reflection on his long life, Masao Matsuyoshi (Steve Iwamoto), who envisions his home-place of Hawaii–while growing up as a Japanese-American in its Japanese community. The dying man finds his mainland living estranged adult children Kati (Chanel Akiko Hirai) and Mark (Nelson Lee) attending to him without really caring about him and that he’s cared for by his reluctant grandson, Gavin (Kanoa Goo), who hates him but drew short straw and is forced to be caretaker for someone he has no feelings for.
During this period we learn about Masao acting contemptuous after his artist Chinese-American wife, Grace (Constance Wu), passed away in 1959, on the day Hawaii became a state and how he becomes an alcoholic. We further learn that Masao’s daughter Kati went to live with someone else for a time due to his desire to be away from children.
While in a trance and dying, the lonely man who has driven away all his friends and family, receives an out of the world visit from the spirit of his long-dead wife, Grace (Constance Wu). This results in a rich depiction of the two and some clumsy exchanges, as Masao’s now filled with remorse and nostalgia over some of his big mistakes he made in life.
We observe Masao in his youth (Kyle Kosaki) act as a confused young man who rebelled against his old-fashioned Japanese-born parents, courted the Chinese-American Grace and married her despite family objections.
We see that Yogi represents Hawaii’s myriad cultures, as he symbolizes the ongoing identity crisis on the island. The film hints that both Masao and Hawaii need to re-evaluate their identity and purposes in order to have a better future.
“Simple Man” offers us a simple story about its strong main character–Masao. He’s someone who imbues Hawaii with such a strong life force that comes alive in the dying man’s visions.
It’s a wonderful film for those viewers who can delight in such a level-headed spiritual/humanistic family drama, one that ponders questions that are left unanswered, in a drama that’s crushed by its sparse dialogue and listless pace. But in its best moments reminds us of an Ozu masterpiece.
It was shown at the SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2021.
REVIEWED ON 11/21/2021 GRADE: B