Hawaii at the Movies
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Forgetting Sarah Marshall (2008)
While I swooned over Montgomery Clift, I winced at Jason Segel. Six feet tall and about 220 pounds wide, Segel’s mole-covered, naked (yes, full frontal) body did not excite many fantasies. But seeing him get dumped—still naked—by his adorably petite girlfriend, Sarah Marshall (Kristen Bell), did make me laugh.
The heartbreak leads Peter Bretter (Segel) to Oahu’s Turtle Bay Resort where, thanks to the hotel’s staff, his recovery takes on a local vibe. Or at least director Apatow’s idea of local.
In this Hawaii, hotel employees hang out at impromptu luau on the hotel’s beach, cooks slay pigs in tiki huts, bartenders joke about being able to pronounce the name of our state fish and waiters look like Jonah Hill (with ’fro intact despite the humidity). The only thing that redeems the fictitious Hawaii is watching Paul Rudd attempt pidgin while surfing—it’s hilariously bad. Apatow’s Hawaii may be filled with stereotypes but when the end product is such a riot, it’s hard to care. At least he spared us coconut bras.
Hawaii Authenticity: 7
Entertainment Value: 8
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)
If Michael Bay’s Pearl Harbor is your idea of historical accuracy, I suggest this 1970 war film as an antidote. The Japanese-American flick does not star a famous cast or any romance, but Tora! Tora! Tora! is an adaptation of Japanese and American histories of the Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor. Is it an educational film? Yes. Is it an entertaining film? Not really.
As with From Here to Eternity, the film features Hawaii as the setting for a clash of nations, without stopping to look at how the locals were affected.
Even this presentation of the Pearl Harbor attack scene was hard to watch. The bird’s eye view of pineapple farm workers and mountaintops showed more of Oahu than 2001’s Pearl Habor, but special effects blend grainy stock footage with cheap-looking model planes—all mixed in with, as weird as this sounds, an incongruous 1970s rock song. It almost had me wishing Ben Affleck would show up. But Tora! Tora! Tora! delivers what it promises, a historically accurate film from both the Japanese and American standpoints.
Hawaii Authenticity: 8
Entertainment Value: 1
Picture Bride (1994)
Long before the era of Match.com or Facebook stalking came picture dating. Or, more accurately, picture weddings.
Picture Bride, a locally made film with a few imported Japanese stars, tells the story of picture brides and their lives on Hawaii’s sugar cane plantations.
Riyo (Youko Kudho) is one of 20,000 picture brides who, between 1907 and 1924, traveled from Japan, Okinawa or Korea to Hawaii to marry strangers they had only seen in photographs. But once the 16-year-old arrives in Honolulu, she is greeted by a man 20 years older than the one she expected. No mistake there, Matsuji (Akira Takayama) simply “forgot” to update his portrait. (This happens every day now on Match.com: not much has changed in 100 years.)
But Picture Bride is not a film about love, it’s a docudrama about the Asian immigrant experience in Hawaii. Filmed at the Waialua Sugar Mill, Picture Bride shows the ever-growing sugar canes, the red mud, the 16-cent pay days and the tension between ethnic groups. It’s a film not only shot in Hawaii, but about Hawaii. Unfortunately, for me, the plot played out like something you’d see on Lifetime Television, with one melodrama after another.
Hawaii Authenticity: 9
Entertainment Value: 4
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