August at Akiko’s, which premiered at the Rotterdam
Film Festival in 2018, is Hawai‘i-born filmmaker Christopher Makoto Yogi’s
full-length directorial debut. Running at a relatively quick 75-minutes, the
film is short but sweet – a compact feature that still makes room to breathe.
Yogi takes his time, indulging in longwinded stationary and panning shots,
capturing the rural island and its people as they are, moving at a pace that
drives the plot forward but conjures the film’s relaxed, dreamy tone.
Hungtai (better known by his stage names, formerly Dirty Beaches, now Last
Lizard) plays himself—or rather a version of himself—a traveling musician who
returns to Hawai‘i Island where he grew up after a decade of estrangement, in
search of his family, his childhood, and his home. What he finds instead is a
bed and breakfast run by Akiko (Akiko Masuda, who also plays herself), where he
continues his search for home. If you think this description sounds vague, it
intentionally is. Yogi’s barebones, deceivingly-light screenplay produced a
film with an enormous amount of depth, focusing more on the visceral experience
of the film and its characters’ interaction and development rather than the
any movie, music and sound design are as important as the picture on screen.
However, August at Akiko’s puts a bold emphasis on the musical compositions,
the different songs and sounds, whether it be through Alex’s brooding sax
solo’s or Akiko’s gently melodic Buddhist bell tones, are expressions of and
companions to the characters themselves. The thoughtfulness of the musical
score is owed to the film’s star, Alex Hungtai. In addition to acting in his
first feature length film, Hungtai provided the post-jazz/new-wave soundtrack.
Hungtai’s score coupled with impeccable sound design floats its audience through
the film – gliding on frog croaks and ocean waves, and the still sound of
nature observed. White noise ceases to simply be white noise for a film in
which sound design is treated with as much conscious consideration as the
directions of the camera, creating an audible element so powerful and explicit,
the viewer could just as well grasp the deep mood of the film with their eyes
concept of time is essential to August at
Akiko’s in terms of plot and technique. Yogi shows Akiko’s tranquil
relationship to time by devoting entire scenes to meditation sequences, her
daily routine of striking bells at the same exact hour daily. Likewise, the
depiction of time from Alex’s perspective is present in extended saxophone
solos and meditation scenes that mirror Akiko’s. At the center of the narrative
is Alex coping with the consequences of time itself—time that he has spent away
from his childhood home, and how he may reclaim that time as an adult in order
to find peace.
While time is integral to the film in terms of plot and technique, it is also used by Yogi to skew the viewer’s perception of reality—very few lengths of time are actually defined. For example, in having Alex’ wardrobe remain the same throughout his stay, Yogi obscures the amount of time Alex actually spends with Akiko. This withholding of timeline clues – further obscured by gaping cinematography and leisurely camera movements – expands the dreamlike quality, leading the audience to question where real ends and the surreal begins.
Watching August at Akiko’s is like watching a film of opposites coalescing together—the real and the surreal, the ephemeral and the eternal. It is a movie experience comprised equally of sight and sound, dream and reality. All components combine, yield, and meld to each other in a way that makes August at Akiko’s an earnest yet engaging movie experience for its viewers and a quiet, ever-humble gift to modern filmmaking.