2021 Sundance Review: I Was A Simple Man

Director(s): Christopher Makoto Yogi

Writer(s): Christopher Makoto Yogi

Cast: Steve Iwamoto, Constance Wu, Tim Chiou

Synopsis: A family in Hawai’i faces the imminent death of their eldest as the ghosts of the past haunt the countryside.

I Was a Simple Man is as slow-moving as you can get. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case, the melodic and metaphoric nature of this film just didn’t work for me. I kept wanting the film to find some sort of conclusion, but when we even began to reach the climax of this film it was already too dull and too confusing to keep up with.

This is difficult to say because there were so many good aspects of this film. The cinematography from Eunsoo Cho was absolutely gorgeous. Cho was able to capture Hawaii in ways that I personally have never seen on film. With the beauty of the land and the sea, Cho does his best to capture a true look at Hawaii’s vibrant and beautiful nature. The score as well from Alex Zhang Hungtai and Pierre Guerineau was a haunting and powerful one. These two aspects of the film really tried to hold me in the space of the movie, and I applaud their efforts in doing that.

But this movie just wasn’t for me. The duality of life and death was shown in one of the most complex and confusing ways I have seen. The metaphoric undertones and situations just weren’t as broad-sweeping as I think Yogi hoped them to be. It felt like if Terrence Malik tried to remake Ozu’s Tokyo Story, but instead of focusing on the family it talked about how everything in time is written and we are a product of a fate that cannot be changed. Maybe it’s just a cultural divide, and if that is the case I can’t blame the filmmakers for that, but the movie just feels overly complex and doesn’t completely utilize the resources it has. Constance Wu and Steve Iwamoto are both good, but their roles feel extremely small even though they are at the grand center of the film. I wanted to like this so much more, but there just isn’t a lot to hold onto from this film. It’s extremely beautiful, and I can see the potential from this movie, but frankly, it just didn’t work for me.

Final: I Was a Simple Man is anything but simple. It looks and sounds beautiful, thanks to great camerawork Eunsoo Cho and a haunting score from Alex Zhang Hungtai and Pierre Guerineau, but it is an extremely dry and slow moving ghost story. I wanted so much more from this but just wasn’t compelled.

My Score: D+

2021 Sundance Coverage

2021 Film Rankings

Jacob is a film critic and co-founder of the Music City Drive-In. He is a member of the Music City Film Critics’ Association and specializes in the awards season. You can find him on Twitter @Tberry57.

Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Eunsoo Cho

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