I Was a Simple Man

Director Christopher Makoto Yogi / 2021 / USA

Constance Wu (Crazy Rich Asians) stars in this elegiac Hawaiian drama as the late wife of a man haunted by his past and slowly becoming a spectre in the present.

Grief, ghosts and the capriciousness of mortality grow more and more tangled in I Was a Simple Man. In its compassionate examination of an ailing Hawaiian man, a question hangs in the air: is it when we die that death claims us, or long before? For Masao – guided by his wife (Wu) who visits, in apparition form, from beyond the grave – the answer is entwined with both his role as patriarch and his place in the storied lineage of his island home.

As much a love letter to Oahu as it is an absorbing, kaleidoscopic study of ageing, memory and colonisation, Christopher Makoto Yogi’s second feature unravels Masao’s final days while allowing Eunsoo Cho’s cinematography to linger on lush greenery, azure sky and sea, and the looming high-rises in their midst. Having drawn comparisons to Terrence Malick, Yasujirō Ozu and Naomi Kawase, I Was a Simple Man is an unmissable and wistfully bittersweet film that blends family history with mythology, daily life with waking dream.

“Crafts a haunting tapestry of a man’s life, interwoven with Hawaii’s own post-colonial landscape … A slow-burning walk toward the light, a paean for life, and the land and people that shaped it.” – /Film

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