First-time filmmakers can glean some very helpful tips from Chuck Mitsui’s debut feature: the Hawaii-based One Kine Day. Neophyte directors often fail because of the self-applied pressure to make Citizen Kane, Breathless, She’s Gotta Have It or Reservoir Dogs on the first outing. Mitsui, a native of San Francisco who moved to Hawaii in 1992, didn’t try to make a big cinematic splash. Instead, he chose to tell a simple story, tell it well and focus on the actors. The filmmaking obediently serves its master: the story. The camera never draws attention to itself but always seems to be in the right place. The result is a very satisfying viewing experience without a single cringe-inducing performance.
The plot could fit inside a thimble: Ralsto (Ryan Greer), a Windward-Oahu skateboarder who discovers that his 15-year-old girlfriend Alea (Christa B. Allen) is pregnant, spends an entire day trying to raise the money for an abortion Alea isn’t sure she wants.
As in all successful dramas, the protagonist in One Kine Day does eventually change, but within the confines of 24 hours he doesn’t need to change all that much. So when Ralsto completes the mundane task of filling out a job application at the end of the movie, we feel he has “come of age.” And because Mitsui is not burdened with the task of cramming weeks, months, or years into two hours, the film is allowed to breathe and flow in the natural, unrushed rhythm of a real day. In the course of that day, we get to soak in the sights, sounds, and feel of Windward Oahu.
In the context of other homegrown productions, Mitsui’s handling of the actors is nothing short of miraculous. Real people populate the screen–the well-meaning but not very bright BFF (played by Janel Parrish); the ne’er-do-well friend (played by Nalu Boersmo, who almost walks away with the picture); the caring single mom (played by one of the cast’s few veteran actors–Julia Nickson.)
We’ve all met these types before, but because of the unforced verisimilitude of the performances, we feel we are meeting these characters for the very first time. Pidgin is given its best on-screen treatment ever. The actors don’t flash it as a badge of honor to remind us, lest we forget, that we are watching a film made in Hawaii for Hawaii residents. It’s just there, the way it is in real life.
Mitsui should also be commended for treating the subject of teen pregnancy seriously without moralizing. Alea doesn’t deflect the gravity of her predicament with the Dorothy Parker wit of Juno’s title character. Neither is she one of the clueless hapai teenagers we see in MTV’s 16 and Pregnant. Her dilemma is very real and her ambivalence about the choice she must make (to abort or not to abort) is heartrending without being the least bit exploitive.
For a 38-year-old Hawaii transplant to make a film about Hawaii teenagers that exploits neither Hawaii nor teens is quite an accomplishment. But Chuck Mitsui may have accomplished something even greater. He may have discovered a solution to a challenge now facing local filmmakers: In a post-Descendants world, how do you make the definitive Hawaii film? One answer: Don’t. Just tell a good story set in Hawaii with real characters played very naturally by convincing actors. You could end up with one kine awesome movie.