Indie Memphis Fil m Festival (2021) review: ‘I Was A Simple Man’ is a gorgeous ghost story and ode to Hawaii.


I Was A Simple Man is a ghost story set in the pastoral countryside of the north shore of O‘ahu, Hawai‘i. Revealed in four chapters, it tells the story of an elderly man facing the end of his life, visited by the ghosts of his past. Incorporating familial history and mythology, dream logic, and surrealism, I Was a Simple Man is a time-shifting, kaleidoscopic story of a fractured family facing the death of their patriarch that will take us from the high-rises of contemporary Honolulu to pre-WWII pastorals of O‘ahu and, finally, into the beyond.

Masao is coming to terms with his mortality in a quietly epic fashion. They say your life flashes before your eyes when you are about to die. In Masao’s case, we are a party to the type of man he was years ago. He is ushered into death by the ghost of his wife Grace, who takes him on a journey through time. There is a bit of a Christmas Carol quality, as Grace brings him into the memories of different and defining times. We come to learn his shortcomings, self-sabotage, doubt, adoration for his wife, and finally, acceptance of his fate. 

Constance Wu, as Grace, exudes elegance and patience. She’s part ghost and pure angel. Our leading man, Steve Iwamoto, playing the present incarnation of Masao, is captivating. He fills each frame with pensive presence. He is unafraid of the physicality of Masao. 

It’s clear from the opening scene that I Was A Simple Man isn’t merely Masao’s story but also a commentary about the colonization of Hawaii. The lush landscape split in two; the top half is nothing but untouched flora, while the bottom half of the city frames are shiny highrise buildings. In quiet moments, we hear the sounds of nature; the wind, crickets, birds, waves, and even some waining dialogue. This film is an ode to the island. The stillness choreographed into many scenes feels meaningful.

Experiencing the juxtaposition of generational reckoning with Masao’s condition is meaningful in a way that will resonate with those who’ve ever watched a loved one pass. It brings feelings of disdain, sadness, confusion, and grief. I Was A Simple Man is a gorgeous catharsis on film. 


About Liz Whittemore

Liz grew up in northern Connecticut and was memorizing movie dialogue from Shirley Temple to A Nightmare on Elm Street at a very early age. She will watch just about any film all the way through (no matter how bad) just to prove a point. A loyal New Englander, a lover of Hollywood, and true inhabitant of The Big Apple.

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