Sundance 2022 review: Every Day in Kaimukī (Alika Maikau)

“When the non-professional actors play versions of themselves, no matter how distant the plot is from their actual lives, Every Day in Kaimukī succeeds.”

Alika Maikau`s Every Day in Kaimukī follows the twenty-something Naz (Naz Kawakami, a non-professional actor who also co-wrote the screenplay) as he prepares to leave his hometown O’ahu in Hawaiʻi behind and move to New York. He has always lived in O’ahu and that is what forces him to move; to him, it feels wrong to spend one’s entire life in the same place. Chances are some opportunity awaits him elsewhere, so his days skateboarding and DJ’ing for a local community radio can’t be all there is.

As Naz moves from work to home, and from home to the city to run an errand for his girlfriend, Maikau succeeds in showing not only the rut in which Naz is stuck but how even living in a paradisiac place, having friends and doing a job he likes, it is precisely that repetition of days in Kaimukī that the title suggests that prevents Naz from fully enjoying things. All his days are the same, not much different from what Larry Clark observed in the way of living of many young people during the mid-90s and early 2000s. That is to say, if that archetype of youth shown by Clark had managed to grow up and birth the next generation, Maikau’s Naz, in all his anxiety and boredom, would be their kid. All the nihilism that was somehow confronted by anger, sex, drugs, and violence in Clark’s Kids (1995), Bully (2001), and Ken Park (2002) evolved into apathy, boredom, and individualism. Young people populate the city in Every Day in Kaimukī, but they rarely collide with each other.

Thus apathy seems to be the key word to understand Naz’s behavior. He doesn’t want to go but keeps planning the trip. He is afraid of leaving everything behind but staying makes him anxious and depressed. He doesn’t even react when his girlfriend, who was supposed to travel with him, cancels everything after he already quit his job and sold his stuff. He simply wanders around the city and gets drunk, yet does nothing that comes close to what was expected of him. The late great Mark Fisher, while addressing depression and exhaustion, wrote about boredom and the feeling of helplessness when it comes to foreseeing a future, similar to Clark’s characters; however, the author posited that something worse was happening to the current generation, because the helplessness is there, the boredom is there too, but now we are overstimulated all the time. We are bored and addicted to boring things on the internet.

When the non-professional actors play versions of themselves, no matter how distant the plot is from their actual lives, Every Day in Kaimukī succeeds; they are young people living in Hawaiʻi during a pandemic, having seen one economic recession after the other, and having the internet almost as the only place to get entertainment, information, and human interaction. When it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, Maikau makes sure that his characters are wearing masks and talking about safety protocols, and it helps to set a more realistic tone. The film does not just deal with COVID-19, but translates well onto the screen how the characters had to live, go to work, listen to music, Facetime relatives, have sex, eat, and study, just like the audience. In keeping with the comparison to Clark’s world, Kids had the AIDS crisis as background, Every Day in Kaimukī has the current pandemic.

Following this line of thought, it is important to acknowledge how ‘sanitized’ Maikau’s film might seem, especially compared to something like Kids. What prevents the film from being great is exactly that obsession with ‘looking good’. In this sense the cinematography, almost like an Instagram filter, alongside the indie pop-rock songs played in key moments as if in an attempt to make it ‘cool’, prevents the realistic approach from fully working. Not to say that it should have been visually similar to Kids or films of that ilk, but it helps us understand that there is a reason why these two generations are so different, and that why Naz and his friends behave the way they do is linked to how disconnected people had become from each other even prior to any lockdown measure. This is to be expected when most human contact is established via the internet. It is a cold environment, not a warm one, and people may share the same space but they are alone together.