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Filmmaker Letter

Filmmaker Letter

I Was a Simple Man

by writer/director Christopher Makoto Yogi

In 2009, I returned home to Kaimukī, Hawai'i to visit my ailing grandfather. At 87, after years of battling lung cancer, he had decided to forgo additional treatment and quietly accept the passing of his own life. As I stepped into his dark room, I saw a once monumental man curled into himself, emaciated beyond comprehension, his mind straddling the border of consciousness. I had been in this room many times; never had it felt so small.

“Ronny?” he called out. “No grandpa, it’s Chris. Ronald’s son.”

“Oh, Chris. Yes. Where Ronny went?”

“Grandpa. He’s dead. Remember?”

I continued to sit with him as he spoke to people who weren’t there, called out phrases in Japanese that I couldn’t understand. It was as if his entire life was closing in on the room around us.

When he passed away, family members around me kept saying, “He was a simple man...” “He was a simple man...” But, was he? I remembered a thoroughly complex man. Yet because he was a traditional Japanese man, he rarely revealed what was inside of him.

I Was a Simple Man tells the story of a Japanese man in Hawai‘i on his deathbed visited by the ghosts of his past. Based on the stories of my family in Hawai‘i, it is a film that captures the intense experiences I've had being in the room with my family members who were in the midst of passing over. These were haunting, terrifying, and yet in retrospect very profound experiences.

As a filmmaker, I am constantly striving for a new way to look at my home, one that both accepts and transcends Hawai‘i’s glossy beauty. Through film, my work explores the details of Hawai‘i as I've experienced them: the ghosts that haunted me as a child, the home that my grandfather built with his own hands, the crumbling Hawaiian gravestones a hundred years old. True beauty weighs heavy in Honolulu.

My goal with I Was a Simple Man is to present my home in all its texture and specificity while also creating a space in which audiences can bring a bit of themselves, looking inward to their own experiences of grieving and loss, thereby communally turning the cinema space into one of acceptance and healing.

Posted November 12, 2021

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