The lyrical ‘I Was a Simple Man’ has been 10 years in the making [SUNDANCE STUDIO]

When filmmaker Christopher Makoto Yogi made the 2011 short film “Obake,” he didn’t necessarily expect to have the film so greatly impact his creative life.

“The short was inspired by my personal experience with death in the family and really trying to capture the feeling of being in the room with someone who is passing over,” he tells Gold Derby. “I wanted to process it on some level as well. I made the short just to make it.”

But a couple of years later, he couldn’t shake the themes of family and death. “I thought I was done with it and for whatever reason, the story stayed with me,” he says. “I kept thinking of the characters and coming up with more story, more to explore. So maybe two or three years after the short was done, I sat down and wrote it and the first draft poured out of me. I wrote the first draft in a couple of weeks.”

That brief initial script period turned into the new film “I Was a Simple Man,” which debuts at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and focuses on a family patriarch at the end of his life. 

“The initial draft of the script was a lot less hopeful,” Yogi admits. “At least for me, the film ends on a hopeful and positive note, one that in which I think there’s a sense of acceptance and things moving on. The first draft of the script was not like that. It was much more surreal. It was a little bit darker and in a place where I was, still trying to process what I felt about death. The message of the script was a lot different.”

“I Was a Simple Man” is set in Hawaii and bounces back through time — and Yogi relies on silence and mood to convey many of the film’s emotions. For the cast, the sparse nature of his script was a blessing, star Tim Chiou says.

“One of the most striking things about the script was the sense of poetry and the powerful sense of imagery that comes across,” he explains. “That alone is so much to go on, but I think one of the things that was cool to me was that the scenes were very real. You couldn’t feel like this was a scene for this purpose. The souls of these characters and the places and the events felt very real. There was a sense of trying to honor the reality of the situation. As long as I was present and felt I was there and reacted to what was around me, everything else would be taken care of — or Chris would take care of it.”

“I Was a Simple Man” debuts at the Sundance Film Festival.

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