#SUNDANCE: “I WAS A SIMPLE MAN”
Review by Amanda Gilmore for Mr. Will Wong
I Was A Simple Man is set on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawai’i. It follows Masao (Steve Iwamoto) and his family through three different time periods. From the pre-World War II sugar plantations of Oahu to Hawai’i statehood, to the present gentrification of Honolulu. In the present, Masao is facing his imminent death and is visited by ghosts of his past, including his wife Grace (Constance Wu).
Writer-Director Christopher Makoto Yogi’s second Feature is a quiet study of a man’s life. He uses surrealistic editing to bring audiences on a journey through Masao’s past and present. This helps differentiate the political, social and personal impacts Masao faced. In doing so, we witness an expansive look into one man’s journey through life.
Yogi has a show, don’t tell quality in his filmmaking. Rather than explain the progressions in Masao’s illness, he uses the natural landscape of Hawai’i. Before he finds out about his fatal illness, his garden flourishes. As his health deteriorates, the plants in his garden become decayed and some fruit rotted. Yogi uses the beauty of his setting to enhance Masao’s story to visualize the spiritual connection one has with their environment.
Additionally, I Was A Simple Man is a study on the emotional impacts death and loss have on families. In the past, Masao deals with his grief in a way he only knows how. In the process, he created a barrier between him and his children. In the present, his undying love for his wife and Grace’s love for him collide within his dying process. She aids him in his passage over, as his living family (daughter and grandson) come to care for him the best they can.
With minimal amounts of dialogue throughout, the cast uses restraint and movement to express their characters’ emotions. Iwamoto is captivating as a man who seems content in his diagnosis and imminent death. Tending to his plants until he is bedridden, and even then, he is in a state of calm. Wu is a powerful presence as the ghost of Grace. There’s a scene where her daughter can’t see her, and Wu tenses every muscle in her body and reaches for her in hope.
I Was A Simple Man screens at Sundance:
Live Premiere: January 29 at 3 PM (EST)
On-Demand (available for 24 hours): January 31 at 10 AM (EST)