KAILUA-KONA — Honolulu-native filmmaker Christopher Makoto Yogi was scouting locations for movies on the Hawaiian islands when the Big Island made a big impact on him.
“I hadn’t been to the Big Island in probably a decade, and something about it really stuck with me,” Yogi said. “I just really loved the people I met and I just felt this strong connection to the place. And I left, and I thought, ‘I want to make something there someday.’”
For “August at Akiko’s,” his first feature film, Yogi wanted to highlight a part of Hawaii not often seen in theaters, away from Oahu. Filmed for three weeks last year along the Hamakua Coast on the east side of the island, and featuring scenes at the inn Akiko’s Bed and Breakfast, Kilauea and Hilo, “August at Akiko’s” is what Yogi calls his “love letter to Hawaii.”
Written and directed by Yogi and starring Alex Zhang Hungtai and Akiko Masuda as fictionalized versions of themselves, “August at Akiko’s” is the story of a musician (Hungtai) who returns home to the Big Island after years away and begins a friendship with a Buddhist innkeeper (Masuda).
After making its world premiere in January at the International Film Festival Rotterdam in the Netherlands, “August at Akiko’s” has played around the world and the mainland and now is playing in Hawaii. It screened at the Hawaii International Film Festival this month, and will make its debut on the Big Island on Saturday, when it plays at 5:30 p.m. at the Palace Theater in Hilo as part of HIFF’s selected Big Island screenings this weekend.
Yogi said the script for the film was only around 10 pages long and not written in the traditional screenplay format, which allowed the film to have a fluid structure.
“It was the first time I has worked like that,” Yogi said. “Working with ideas, emotions and concepts and then allowing the film to grow from that, kind of like watering a plant. Just accepting that whatever it grows into, that’s what it’s going to be in the end.”
The film is personal for Yogi, who has spent the last 10 years living on the mainland, first in Los Angeles and then New York. He said while doing research for the film, he found his family traces some of their roots back to the Big Island, and he took the information as a sign to make the film.
“I had been very disillusioned with filmmaking in the last few years, and this film really reinvigorated me and made me fall in love with the craft of filmmaking again,” Yogi said.
Yogi said his only goal for the film’s Big Island premiere is that the audience enjoys the film, even one that comes from the perspective of someone from another island. Even though this is only his first film, Yogi wants to continue making films in Hawaii.
“Everything I’ve written in the past 10 years has been set here. It’s what I know and what I love so it comes easily to me to write about Hawaii and write stories set in Hawaii,” Yogi said. “And the other part of it is I think it’s necessary to have media out there that’s coming from a local perspective.”
A past project of Yogi’s was the film essay “Occasionally, I Saw Glimpses of Hawaii.” Made in 2016, the essay had Yogi watching decades of Hollywood films made in Hawaii, where he saw the differences between Hollywood’s perspective of the islands and his experiences living here.
“It made me so aware how important it is not only to have that Hollywood image of Hawaii, but that people from Hawaii are also making work and showing different stories that have been left behind or lost to history.”
Info: The complete schedule for the Hawaii International Film Festival at the Palace Theater this weekend and tickets can be found at hilopalace.com.