×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘August at Akiko’s’

Cool and calming as a summer sea breeze, Christopher Makoto Yogi's gentle paean to Hawaii, jazz and inner peace should be a festival-circuit charmer.

Director:
Christopher Makoto Yogi
With:
Alex Zhang Hungtai, Akiko Masuda

1 hour 15 minutes

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt7543918/

In the humble Hawaiian bed-and-breakfast where much of “August at Akiko’s” is set, a sign to guests offers the following instruction for when they depart: “Leave no trace, just a presence.” In a sense, writer-director Christopher Makoto Yogi’s beguiling whisper of a debut does much the same thing: A late-summer mood piece, sometimes literally meditative in pace and ambience, it’s not heavy-imprint filmmaking, but its breezy, benevolent warmth stays with you after its immediate details begin to fade. Starring acclaimed jazz musician Alex Zhang Hungtai as a fictionalized version of himself, chasing his past and a human connection on the sleepy Hawaiian island of his childhood, it is, among other virtues, a soul-deep love letter to a state that Hollywood tends to more glibly romanticize. Following its Rotterdam premiere, the film’s wistful sunniness should warm up further festival programs.

Competing with the luxuriant coastal scenery for the camera’s besotted gaze much of the time is the pensive, story-laden face of Zhang, compellingly shouldering his first film after an enigmatic appearance in David Lynch’s “Twin Peaks” revival last year. The Taiwanese-Canadian, known to the music world as Dirty Beaches, has garnered something of a cult following for his atmospheric fusion of traditional jazz and new-wave modernism. If his cool mystique initially seems out of place in these bright, modest proceedings, that’s rather the point in a story about finding roots from which you’ve long drifted.

The culture clash at the heart of “August at Akiko’s” is set up sonically in the opening scenes, as the brassy clatter of Zhang’s jazz compositions — he’s also responsible for the film’s textured, head-filling score — meshes with the more stately echo of traditional Buddhist instrumentation. Over images of sunlight rippling through through a lush tropical forest with skittering, almost strobe-like intensity, this soundtrack lends proceedings an entrancing quality from the get-go, setting the tone for a film woozily concerned with finding bliss. Before that can happen, however, Alex needs to find home.

Arriving on the Big Island after a period of estrangement only lightly alluded to in Makoto Yogi’s spare screenplay, he sets off in search of his grandparents’ house, with only childhood memory as his navigation system. Yet the house has been demolished, his family has passed without his knowledge, and there’s nary a trace of his ancestors’ existence on the land. Disillusioned and directionless — to the point of playing a woebegone saxophone solo of “Auld Lang Syne” — he stumbles upon a retreat run by Akiko (the delightful Akiko Masuda), a sprightly but calmly centred Buddhist woman who seems to have mastered the peace that eludes him, and decides to stay for a while.

Over the course of a few weeks, she takes him into her confidence and her care: Stories, therapeutic techniques and musical gifts are exchanged, as the two form a sweetly pure, spiritual bond. That’s the extent of the drama in “August at Akiko’s.” Its pleasures are ones of being rather than doing, as Alex and Akiko’s minds meet and harmonize, while Makoto Yogi takes advantage of the silence to patiently observe nature at rest and local customs at play — the film is a rare, affectionate portrait of Hawaiian Japanese culture as it has survived into the 21st-century.

Straightforward but soft in touch, Makoto Yogi’s approach sits casually at the no-rush-hour junction of Jem Cohen and Naomi Kawase, while Eunsoo Cho’s clean, big-skied lensing gives the emerald landscape its due without resorting to picture-postcard aesthetics. Needless to say, a film in which entire scenes are built around breathing exercises risks being blown away by the slightest island zephyr, but its themes of empathy and internal healing hold it down without portent. At 75 minutes, meanwhile, it’s stringently shaped by Makoto Yogi (also on editing duty), who appears to heed Alex’s own musical advice given in the film: “A hairsbreadth deviation, and you are out of tune.”

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'August at Akiko's'

Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Bright Future), Jan. 31, 2018.

Production: A Hamakua Rain production. (International sales: Hamakua Rain, Honolulu.) Producer: Sa Hwa Kim. Executive producers: Cris Clatte, James Sereno, Joshua Strickland, Sa Hwa Kim, Chris Choi. Co-producer: Vince Keala Lucero.

Crew: Director, screenplay, editor: Christopher Makoto Yogi. Camera (color): Eunsoo Cho. Music: Alex Zhang Hungtai.

With: Alex Zhang Hungtai, Akiko Masuda, Kinuko Arakaki, Phoenix Yamashiro, Easten Tanimoto, Steve Iwamoto, Robbie Kane.

More Film

  • Idris Elba Netflix 'Turn Up Charlie'

    Idris Elba to Star in 'The Harder They Fall' for Netflix

    Idris Elba will star alongside Jonathan Majors in “The Harder They Fall,” a Netflix movie that will be produced by Jay-Z. The film follows outlaw Nat Love (Majors), who discovers that the man (Elba) who killed his parents two decades ago is being released from prison and decides to reunite with his gang to track [...]

  • Laverne Cox Charlie's Angels

    How Laverne Cox Landed a Cameo in Elizabeth Banks' 'Charlie’s Angels'

    Laverne Cox officially earned her wings, scoring a role in Sony’s “Charlie’s Angels.” But she revealed her cameo almost didn’t happen. When the Emmy-nominee heard that Elizabeth Banks was directing the film, the longtime fan of the franchise (and of Banks herself) reached out about being part of the project. Cox had previously worked with [...]

  • Yanick Létourneau

    France's Promenades, Canada's Peripheria Produce ‘Kidnapping Inc.’

    BARCELONA – Yanick Létourneau’s Quebec-based production house Peripheria has teamed with lead producer Samuel  Chauvin’s Promenades Films in France, as well as Haiti’s Muska Group and Canal Plus Antilles to co-produce comedic-thriller “Kidnapping Inc.,” the sophomore feature of French director Bruno Mourral (“Kafou”). France’s CNC National Film Board, French-language TV channel TV5 Monde and the [...]

  • Marriage Story by Noah Baumbach, starring

    Scarlett Johansson, Adam Driver to Be Honored at Santa Barbara Film Festival

    Scarlett Johansson and Adam Driver will receive the performers of the year award from the Santa Barbara International Film Festival on Jan. 17. The duo is being saluted in a ceremony at the Arlington Theatre for their work in Noah Baumbach’s “Marriage Story.” The festival has become a key stop for filmmakers during awards season. [...]

  • Florence Pugh 'Little Women' Amy Actors

    How Greta Gerwig Will Forever Change Your Stance on ‘Little Women’s’ Amy

    When pressed to pick a favorite among “Little Women’s” iconic March sisters, one sibling is usually rarely chosen … the youngest. “I always hated Amy,” Beanie Feldstein revealed to Florence Pugh, who plays the divisive character in Greta Gerwig’s recent adaptation. “Then, miss, I watched this film and I was so blown away by your [...]

  • 160317_Fox_ChrisAronson

    Paramount Names Chris Aronson President of Domestic Distribution

    Chris Aronson has been tapped as president of domestic theatrical distribution at Paramount Pictures, a hire that reunites him with studio chief Jim Gianopulos. Both men worked together at 20th Century Fox for decades. Aronson is known for his wit, blunt talk, and deep ties to the exhibition industry. He was pushed out from his [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content