There’s a certain island mindset, one that might feel claustrophobic to someone raised in wide spaces with borders easily traversed in a single day. I felt it in Japan and again in the UK. I feel it when I’m in Oahu. If everyone is separated by six degrees in the North American continent, then people born and raised on Oahu are three degrees of separation and each social interaction with new people begins with trying to find that common link.
That feeling isn’t there in “Every Day in Kaimuki.” The film is about a young man, Naz (Naz Kawakami who co-wrote the script with Alika Tengan), who skateboards with his buddies and is a late-night DJ. Naz lives with his girlfriend, Sloane (Rina White) and she’s talented enough to get into a program on the mainland. Naz plays the supportive boyfriend, more than ready to go, but he needs to get rid of some things and figure out how to take his cat. Outside of getting off of Oahu with his cat, Naz doesn’t seem to have any particular ambition.
His buds don’t think Sloane and Naz (and the cat) will make it. They will be partially right, but that’s not really the problem here. While the cinematography has some grace and shows us a time and place, a way of life, the plot doesn’t always give us the claustrophobic nature of Oahu, particularly as it affects Naz. My husband, who is from Oahu, found this film particularly disappointing.
Kaimuki is a residential neighborhood in Honolulu, Hawaii, near Kahala and Diamond Head. It was once an ostrich farm and later a farm where the non-native carnation flower was raised. It is not far from Diamond Head and has the Kapi’olani Community College (one of ten branches of the public University of Hawai’i system). Known as KCC, the college hosts a Farmers’ Market on Saturdays. The late Hawaiian musical and singer Israel Kamakawiwoʻole (1959-1997) was raised there. The name Kaimuki comes from the Hawaiian phrase “Ka emu Kī” which means “the ti root oven.” The Kaimuki webpage makes it seem like a cool place to visit for its stores and restaurants. I try to visit the KCC Farmers’ Market when I’m in Oahu and that’s close to paradise for me.
From the film, it is clear that every day in Kaimuki isn’t paradise for Naz, but that’s not enough and even for a slice of life, Kawakami’s character needs to draw us in more and win us over from the very beginning. That’s a problem that goes beyond the script and director Alike Tengan could have done more to elicit more emotional interest.
“Every Day in Kaimuki” made its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival in 2022. It also screened at the Los Angeles Asian Pacific Film Festival and was the closing night film for CAAMFest 2022.