Diversity marks local film offerings


POSTED: Friday, October 16, 2009

Every year at the Hawaii International Film Festival, a select number of local filmmakers get the opportunity to see their hard work on a big screen.

Once again, audiences will be able to catch various Shorts Programs during the festival, as well as a special night set aside for student films from the University of Hawaii's Academy for Creative Media.

Two shorts shown at ACM Night will be Priscilla Stafford's “;Flowers, Chocolates, and Candlelit Dinners”; and Brittany Itsuno's animated “;Lulu.”;

Stafford describes her film as being “;all about that 'awkward' stage between 'boy meets girl' and 'boy and girl become an couple.' It's about a guy trying to be open about his feelings and realizing that sometimes action doesn't speak louder than words.

“;A particular challenge I have which most student filmmakers probably share was on the producing side; trying to get all the actors and mostly trying to find the space to film,”; she said.

Challenges of a different sort came to animator Itsuno, whose “;Lulu”; is an enhanced version of a heartfelt experience of hers that she shared while growing up along with her pet dog.

“;I spent a lot of sleepless nights working on my film—about 800 drawings in total were used in it—but I am glad with the end result,”; she said.





        » Where: Regal Dole Cannery Theaters, 735 Iwilei Rd.

» When: Today through Oct. 25


» Cost: $10 general admission, $9 for students, seniors, children and military; $8 for HIFF Ohana members


» Info: 548-5905 or


» Note: Shorts Programs screenings at Dole Cannery multiplex at 4 and 5:45 p.m. today, 5:30 and 9:15 p.m. tomorrow, and 6:45 and 8:30 p.m. Sunday; Academy for Creative Media Night at Dole Cannery multiplex at 7:45 p.m. Oct. 23




FINDING FRESH ways to depict the Hawaii experience is always a major concern, especially for three local-born filmmakers who make their return to HIFF this year.

ACM alumnus Henry Mochida did a mini-documentary on homeless Native Hawaiians titled “;Blue Tarp City.”;

“;I faced the typical challenges on any set,”; he said. “;Murphy's Law stopped by in the form of overheating hard drives, people refusing interviews, going broke and needing 3 months to get back on my feet, pulling all-nighters and even to this day fighting for an audience.”;

Ty Sanga is coming back home with his drama “;Stones,”; which looks into a native couple's dissolving marriage, with dialogue in Hawaiian. Adapted from a Native Hawaiian legend, it's a love story about the last native couple on the island, Na'iwi (Moses Goods) and Nihipali (Rava Shastid), and their struggle to accept newcomers to the island.

Still grieving from the loss of her son, Nihipali is caught between her desire to befriend a young girl from the village and her husband's insistence to maintain their separation.

Sanga said his film was produced for his thesis at California's Chapman University, shooting in 35mm with a larger budget compared to his previous work. One of the goals he and his crew had was “;to create a distinctive style and tone for a kahiko film. We've studied brilliant films by Terence Malick and Yasujiro Ozu, and also films by indigenous filmmakers from New Zealand and Native Americans.”;

ON THE opposite end of the spectrum, avid Korean drama fans are the focus of a zany comedy by Hawaii Film Office specialist Brent Anbe that marks his first foray into feature writing and directing.

“;Ajumma! Are You Krazy???”; has already generated some buzz, to the point that Anbe and all involved are throwing a gala premiere reception and fundraiser before the short's screening tomorrow.

The film follows the misadventures of three ajummas, or older ladies, who are Korean drama fanatics and will stop at nothing to meet their latest heartthrob hunk. Despite its length, “;Ajumma!”; was packed with different elements.

“;There were things that were difficult to stage and film, such as beach scenes, chase sequences and dance sequences with approximately 30 extras,”; Anbe said, “;and the film had as many elaborate locations and set pieces as some feature films.

“;Luckily, we had the support of the most dedicated, creative, hard working cast and crew, and it was largely because of them that the film came out the way it did.”;

Read additional comments from local filmmakers and bonus movie reviews in HILife Online; visit


HIFF Celebrates 'Lost'

One more season remains before “;Lost”; transitions into what surely will be a robust life in syndication. The leaders of the Hawaii International Film Festival have planned a first-class sendoff that includes a series of master class seminars and a moderated panel with special appearances from some of the stars. Audience members will have an opportunity to interact on an intimate level with the forces that drive the series.

The occasion starts with a seminar entitled “;Producing and Directing a Hit Show,”; from noon to 1:30 p.m. tomorrow with “;Lost”; executive producer and director Jack Bender and co-executive producer Jean Higgins. They will share some of the challenges of managing and directing an ensemble cast on an outdoor set.

From 2 to 3:30 p.m. production designer Zack Grobler, director of photography John Bartley, construction coordinator Michael Crow and location manager/associate producer Jim Triplett will discuss the secrets of “;Bringing the Design of Each Episode Together.”; How do they find and decide on locations, and transform pieces of Oahu into exotic settings all over the world in a matter of days? Learn the intricacies of assembling an episode before the actors even arrive on set.

From 4 to 5:30 p.m. costume designer Roland Sanchez and property master Robert Kyker will discuss “;Costumes & Props,”; revealing details many viewers never consider.

The free seminars take place at Regal Dole Cannery.

The day concludes with “;An Evening with Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse,”; which will include special appearances by “;Lost”; cast and crew members at the Royal Hawaiian Theater (cost to attend is $50; $35 for HIFF members). There is sure to be plenty of opportunity to ask questions of the creators/writers/producers behind every mystery of the show's last five and a half years and garner a few hints about the upcoming season. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the seminar—presented in a format similar to “;Inside the Actors Studio”; and moderated by Variety's Brian Lowry—begins at 8 p.m.

Katherine Nichols, Star-Bulletin


'White on Rice'

American Immigrant Filmmakers on Profile (Hawaii premiere)
Screens at 7:30 p.m. Monday and 9:30 p.m. Tuesday

We're given the sketchiest synopses before watching HIFF screeners, but I didn't sign up for a samurai film, so I was a little confused when “;White on Rice”; opened that way.

It turns out Hajime (Hiroshi Watanabe) is reliving past glory as a bit actor in Japanese films. A loser with a capital L, he's done little since but get divorced, which is how he ended up in the United States, living off his sister and sharing a bedroom with his 10-year-old nephew. His brother-in-law wants him out of his house, so he enlists others to help Hajime find him work and a girlfriend—but Hajime is stuck to the family like the film's title suggests.

He promises to get his act together once he has a girlfriend and spends most of his time pursuing Ramona, who is half his age and another temporary guest of the family due to her own dissolved relationship.

To some this might be the makings of fine comedy, but to those with the baggage of knowing such losers, it rang so true that I found myself feeling the same agony and contempt as Hajime's brother-in-law. I laughed just once when, due to Hajime's mess in the kitchen, the brother-in-law slips and falls on the same kitchen knife he threatened to wield on his nemesis.

One of the most interesting characters is the little boy who takes charge of his own extracurricular affairs—including working after school to earn money he uses to pay for piano lessons and to lend to his needy uncle—while the adults around him founder.

Nadine Kam, Star-Bulletin


'State of Aloha'

Halekulani Golden Orchid Award Nominee (World premiere)
Screens at 2:45 p.m. Sunday and 2 p.m. Thursday HHH

“;State of Aloha”; is the lasting legacy of producer/director Anne Misawa. Completed with help from the University of Hawaii's Academy of Creative media, this 80-minute documentary is packed with archival footage and interviews with some of Hawaii's most influential politicians from the 20th century.

But the information presented is nothing new for any self-respecting Hawaiian who cares about the sovereignty movement. The vast majority is simply a rehash of injustices suffered by kanaka maoli since the overthrow of the Hawaiian Kingdom.

There are, however, a few interesting tidbits about former Gov. John Burns and his efforts to achieve statehood for Hawaii (did you know he was snubbed from attending the statehood bill's signing ceremony, even though he was in Washington, D.C., at the time?). And it's nice to see Misawa putting in the effort to present diverse viewpoints, including those of lesser-known individuals who might not wield the same power as Sen. Daniel Inouye, former Gov. George Ariyoshi or University of Hawaii scholars Haunani-Kay Trask and Jonathan Osorio.

While some might fault “;State of Aloha”; for not presenting any potential solutions to the conflict surrounding Hawaiian sovereignty, Misawa should be commended for producing a valuable teaching tool for future generations.

But the film makes it painfully obvious—to this Hawaiian, at least—that we're not out of the woods yet.

Jason Genegabus, Star-Bulletin


'The Bare Essence of Love'

Puma Emerging Filmmakers Award Nominee (U.S. premiere)
Screens at 2 p.m. Sunday and 12:30 p.m. Tuesday

Yojin is a fidgety 25-year-old man who has trouble holding conversations. He's easily distracted and often behaves in a childlike fashion. He falls for Machiko, a school teacher who has moved to Aomori from Tokyo. For him, it's love at first sight.

After being buried in a garden by a young neighborhood boy and sprayed with pesticides, Yojin realizes the chemicals help clear his mind. He decides to regularly douse himself in order to make himself more desirable to Machiko. He is wired differently than most folks—“;not broken,”; according to his doctor, “;just different.”;

Machiko has her own troubles, mainly the trauma caused by her boyfriend's decapitation in a fatal car crash. And it gets worse—he was with another woman at the time. She seems frightened by Yojin's erratic behavior, yet the pair regularly take long, scenic walks and engage in deep conversations.

Kenichi Matsuyama (Yojin) provides a poignant performance as he portrays an eccentric farmer. Kumiko Aso (Machiko) provides the perfect balance to his frenzied antics.

Despite the film's slow start, Yojin and Machiko evolve about halfway through, making me wish they had taken more walks along the way.

Nancy Arcayna, Star-Bulletin


'20th Century Boys 3: Redemption'

Spotlight on Japan (North American premiere)
Screens at 6 p.m. Oct. 24 and 7 p.m. Oct. 25

Those who have been holding their breath awaiting the third episode of the manga-epic “;20th Century Boys”; can stop turning blue.

It's here. And you may wonder what all the fuss was about.

Based on Naoki Urasawa's thick manga, the film trilogy is likely one of the biggest efforts yet by the Japanese film industry. Way bigger than Godzilla. And Tokyo manages to get wasted here, too.

Writer-director Yukihiko Tsutsumi's edition of the story continues on the same wavelength of ghostly nostalgia and fanciful modern commentary. A group of pals in the '60s create a book of “;prophecy”; as a way of imagining the end of the world. They drift apart, then get back together when the horrors begin to come true—particularly the rise of a cult-like leader known only as “;Friend.”;

Before you ask, yes, there are giant robots creating mayhem. Not enough of them, alas. The steam seems to have run out of the franchise during this third part, and it's simply an OK capper to the series. There's a lot of talk for the sake of conversation, and revelations within revelations that seem to be there primarily to pad out the running time. The effects are way cool, though, although the evocation of Tokyo a lifetime ago is actually more impressive.

And this is NOT a spoiler: Don't leave when the credits start to roll. There's another 20 minutes of film left that “;explains”; everything.

Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin



American Indies (Hawaii premiere)
Screens at 6:15 p.m. tomorrow and noon Monday

“;Etienne!”; alternately bills itself as “;the hamster movie”; and “;the first foreign film shot in the United States.”;

The stars of writer/director Jeff Mizushima's film are an underemployed, lifetime student and sad sack of a character named Richard, who sleepwalks through life except for one bright spot: His relationship with dwarf hamster Etienne.

Richard lands a job as a maintenance worker—the film is a nice ad spot for California's San Remo Hotel—but seems alive only when combining toilet tissue tubes and boxes of junk into mazes and contraptions for Etienne.

It could be considered a foreign film in rejecting American romance/action adventure plotlines and tidy endings and accepting the truth of life's dull, often sad realities. Richard just muddles along, with the actor playing him (Richard Vallejos) appearing to aim for a flat Napoleon Dynamite sort of delivery, but without Jon Heder's charisma.

When Etienne is diagnosed with terminal cancer, Richard leaves everything behind to take his furry companion on one last bicycle road trip that leads him from sandy beaches to redwood forests, and to encounters with artists and other people who espouse their own ideas about man's relationships with beasts.

It's a sweet tale, sometimes made hypnotic by music from Great Northern and Beatbeat Whisper; plus, in a separate storyline, the presence of heartbroken Elodie (Megan Harvey), a young woman on a journey of her own, who crosses paths with Richard and Etienne, but not in a tidy “;American”; sort of way.

Nadine Kam, Star-Bulletin


'Air Doll'

After Dark (U.S. premiere)
Screens at 10 p.m. Oct. 24 and Oct. 25

“;Air Doll”; is a movie about a sex doll that comes to life.

If knowing that—along with the fact that a scene showing said doll in use appears four minutes into the movie and Bae Doona, who plays the female doll's human form, appears topless rather frequently—is not enough to offend your moral sensibilities, then congratulations, you're ready to watch “;Air Doll.”;

There isn't much in the way of explanation. Soon after the aforementioned sex scene, the doll suddenly blinks to life, picks a suitable wardrobe and walks out to wander the streets of modern-day Japan, appreciating beautiful things and trying to find meaning in her existence. She finds work as a video store clerk and falls in love with her coworker (played by Arata), a relationship that starkly contrasts with how she's used by her owner, a single, middle-aged waiter (Itsuji Itao).

The movie suggests that like the doll, we are all full of air, of an innate emptiness—how we choose to replace it with something of substance is ultimately up to us. It's an apt metaphor for this movie as a whole, with the story airily floating from set piece to set piece, waiting to be filled with meaningful insight.

Sometimes it works. Ultimately, though, enjoyment of “;Air Doll”; will depend on how much you can forgive the frequent leaps of faith and common sense it takes to prove its point.

Jason S. Yadao, Star-Bulletin



Spotlight on Japan (North American premiere)
Screens at 6 p.m. Monday and 12:30 p.m. Oct. 23

Like “;Julie and Julia,”; this is one of those films that will leave you hungry.

Nagai Komaki, at the ripe age of 31, decides to divorce her husband, who goofs off all day, every day, supposedly trying to summon the mojo to write a novel. Nagai, bringing her school-age daughter, moves back in with her none-too-thrilled mother in the big city, and discovers her bid for independence has not been well planned. She has no skills, no talents, no job experience.

In fact, all she's got is a big chip on her shoulder. And she's cute. That helps, but only so much.

Based on a manga, “;Noriben”; follows Nagai's modest Odyssey of self-discovery. She parries with—and keeps at arms length—an annoyingly persistent ex-husband, a bookish childhood almost-boyfriend, her frustrated mother, a cheerful bar hostess companion and a restaurant chef who, by accident, provides Nagai with her mission in life. Her life dream (decided in a flash of gustatory inspiration) is to run a bento shop, making box lunches for kids!

A Hollywood movie might have her wanting to run an empire; this Japanese film is all about modest and achievable expectations, even those right under your nose. Director/writer Akira Ogata maintains a wry, brittle humor throughout, and, with her long neck, big ears and bright eyes, Manami Konishi is an adorable antelope of an actress.

A shout out goes to cinematographer Norimichi Kasamatsu as well for his brilliant work on this urban comedy.

Burl Burlingame, Star-Bulletin