LAAPFF 2021: I Was a Simple Man Review

I Was a Simple Man

They say that right before you die, your life flashes before your eyes. In the case of Christopher Makoto Yogi’s I Was a Simple Man, it takes place over some time. I Was a Simple Man follows Masao (Steve Iwamoto), an elderly man who finds out that he only has a limited amount of time left before he dies. Through the ghost of his deceased wife, Grace (Constance Wu), Masao spends his dying days looking back at the impactful periods of his life as he tries to find peace before he’s gone. 

As you can imagine, coping with sorrow is the dominant theme throughout the film. Due to Masao’s grief over the premature death of Grace, his life goes on a freefall. Thus, he begins by distancing himself from his children by becoming a drunken recluse. “I’m gonna drink until I’m very old and eventually, I’ll die,” he tells a friend. If it weren’t for Asian culture’s commitment to caring for the elderly, he would die a sad, lonely man. 

Yogi, along with the beautiful cinematography by Eunsoo Cho, thoroughly fills I Was a Simple Man with unsubtle heavy symbolism. For example, as Masao waves goodbye to his family after his birthday party, the scene plays out longer than one might expect. This scene shows early on how emotionally distant his children and grandchildren are from Masao.

I Was a Simple Man lives and dies by the audiovisuals put forth by the filmmakers. It’s through and through a specific kind of art film.

While the blatant form of symbolism fits with the tone of the film, it, unfortunately, leaves out any room for characterizations. Yogi’s focus on the rich visuals doesn’t leave the actors with anything to do. Don’t get me wrong, the performances by the cast are excellent. However, as the film progresses, it becomes increasingly challenging to connect emotionally with these characters. Not to mention, the film moves at a Hawaiianesque laid-back pace and features a minimal amount of dialogue. Thus, I Was a Simple Man lives and dies by the audiovisuals put forth by the filmmakers. It’s through and through a specific kind of art film. Although the film will reach a distinct audience, casual moviegoers will find the movie to be a bore.

Those viewers who can relate to I Was a Simple Man will find a refreshing look at the history of a man with a complex past. Yogi lets us get to know Masao on a personal level by showing us his life and death at a macro level. As we delve deeper into the symbolism and philosophy of life and death, we begin to understand and accept the beauty of this stage of life.

Rating: 2.5/5 atoms

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