I Was a Simple Man

I WAS A SIMPLE MAN PORTRAYS HAWAI’I AS A SIMPLE STATE

Featuring an elderly Japanese American on the North Shore of Oʽahu, Hawaiʽi, who confronts his imminent death with memories of the past is the task of I Was a Simple Man. Masao Matsuyoshi (played by Steven Iwamoto) recalls his life in nonchronological order while living alone in an old-fashioned beachfront pole house. Solipsistly, he remembers growing up, encountering others in the neighborhood, getting married, becoming a father, getting divorced, and living alone. Although in a neighborhood with Native Hawaiians, his contacts are primarily within an isolated Japanese American community, and his parents oppose his teenage interest in a young Chinese gal. He recalls a pristine environment now clouded by high rise apartments. The only hint of his employment is reference to plantation agriculture. The only political events recalled are World War II bombing and statehood, yet he is unimpressed with the fact that statehood brought Japanese into positions of political power after decades of discrimination by White elites during the Territorial period, when rural Japanese were often consigned to live within their own subculture. Although Honolulu-born director Christopher Makoto Yogi, with film education acquired at USC,  seeks a poetic statement about how elderly persons deal with their last days on earth, recalling good and bad memories, his portrayal of Hawaiʽi feeds into a narrative that the Fiftieth State is a backward part of the United States, living in the past, unworthy of national attention despite extraordinary developments that have been deliberately discounted elsewhere in the United States—from high levels of racial intermarriage that served to reshape the way the decennial census categorizes race, a health care plan that Barack Obama enshrined into Obamacare, the initial court ruling about same-sex marriage, and many other ignored extraordinary achievements. The decision to portray the Aloha State as parochial is nakedly revealed when one character in the film uses the word “mainland” to identify the continental United States.  MH

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