Alex Zhang Hungtai plays a wandering musician in Hawaiian filmmaker Christopher Makoto Yogi's debut feature. Info
August At Akiko's (2018), the first feature-length film from native Hawaiian writer-director-editor Christopher Makoto Yogi, is an enigmatic spiritual journey. Beneath the serene surface Eunsoo Cho and José Asunción's steady, glowing cinematography creates, and the religious rituals interwoven into the film's hushed narrative, a temporal, darkly rippling undercurrent haunts the memory of both character and landscape.
Screening at Cinematheque as part of the Asian-American Media Spotlight and the "Premiere Showcase" fall finale, the rather minimalist and tonally ambiguous August At Akiko's is a quite a daring inclusion in the schedule. The parceled details of its story tell one of Alex (lo-fi multi-instrumentalist Alex Zhang Hungtai, formerly known as Dirty Beaches, playing a version of himself), a travelling musician/tenor saxophonist in his mid-30s, who arrives in Nīnole on the island of Hawai'i, in search of his estranged grandparents. In observing the modernizing topography that has rendered certain parts of his birth place unrecognizable, he finds the Buddhist B&B overseen by the wise and nurturing Akiko (Akiko Masuda). She becomes a kind of adoptive grandmother and spiritual tour guide in Alex's quest for answers and soulful yearning for an ancestral connection.
When scenes aren't warmly illuminated in daylight and enveloped in the pacifying patter of rain and sounds of the island's regional insects and fauna, the film is more deeply attuned to Alex's unspoken grief, which he verbally hints at only in conversations with Akiko. Rather, these emotions are more distinctly expressed in Alex's sorrowful solo saxophone performances and vividly captured through Cho and Asunción's camerawork, which favors long shots to frame the individual in relation to the impressive but imposing natural world. In certain recurring moments of flashback, it even leans towards the intensity of David Lynch (evoking Hungtai's recent work with Lynch on season three of Twin Peaks) and Ben Rivers and Ben Russell's experimental ethnographic film/black metal odyssey A Spell To Ward Off The Darkness (2013). —Grant Phipps