I Was a Simple Man is a beautiful, haunting, and rewarding film. I recently saw the film's premiere at Sundance (virtually) where both of the virtual screenings sold out, which is an indicator of the film's intrigue. In I Was a Simple Man, director Christopher Makoto Yogi tells the story of a dying man named Masao on the North Shore of Oahu. We realize after some interactions with family that Masao is in no way a simple man and has quite a complicated past. He is a man who fell deeply in love with his wife, but after her death decades ago he chose to have very little involvement with his children, which leaves him mostly isolated on his deathbed. I connected with this storyline deeply, particularly during this pandemic when many of us are confronting death to an extent that we never have before, and also feel incredibly isolated at the same time. Days later the film has me grappling mentally with deaths in my own family and the complex, sometimes flawed personal relationships that greatly complicate our emotions when death comes around.
The story touches on a lot of interesting topics, some that might be familiar to those who have seen Yogi's previous work. The characters and script are nostalgic for an old Hawaii, one not littered with high rise hotels and apartment buildings, and one that is more green and untouched. Hawaiian nature is deeply linked to the characters and is a focal point visually, aurally, and symbolically. The complicated issue of Hawaiian statehood also creates a layered backdrop to the story that unfolds in the past.
The performances by the actors and cultivated by Yogi are impressive. Constance Wu is probably the draw here, but this is not your typical Wu project. In fact, I was most appreciative of the subtle acting of relative newcomer Steve Iwamoto in the lead role, whose tanned and weathered face expressed so much. I was also impressed by Tim Chiou who played "Adult Masao" during some of the most difficult times for his character.
Regarding the film's style, I Was a Simple Man would be categorized in the genre of Slow Cinema and is rewarding to those with some patience. Perhaps this pacing will not be for everyone, but I found that it created a meditative and thoughtful tone that felt intentionally and deeply in tune with the Hawaiian environment where "time moves differently," which is also a reference to the film's fluid chronology. Though some of the boldest choices come later in the film, most of which I'll refrain from spoiling, I found the film to be quite dynamic as it builds towards its conclusion. The film's cinematography is quite gorgeous, showcasing a less familiar side of Hawaii, and featuring frames reminiscent of Ozu. The sound design is incredible, providing the Hawaiian environment life and vibrancy through powerful crescendos and hard cuts. When combined with the haunting score, I found myself quite moved or even rattled emotionally as the drama unfolded. Overall the film is quite the unique and profound sensory experience.
Ultimately, I Was a Simple Man was the perfect antidote to so much binging of generic Netflix series that I think we all are having to resort to these days. I was deeply affected by the film and I'm still thinking about it days later. If you're looking to watch something refreshing, different, and thoughtful, then I would highly recommend checking out I Was a Simple Man. I think it will go down as one of my favorites of the year.
I Was a Simple Man
I Was a Simple Man
A family in Hawai'i faces the imminent death of their eldest as the ghosts of the past haunt the countryside.
Uploaded By: FREEMAN
December 15, 2021 at 03:50 AM