The Hawai’i International Film Festival is marking their 40th year with a 25-day virtual program. Of the wide variety of stories coming from Hawaii and beyond, Jason K. Lau’s Story Game stands out as a film about just that: storytelling.
College friends James (Alberto Rosende), Chika (Lyrica Okano), and Nicole (Greer Grammer) go camping in Hawaii when they decide to challenge each other to telling the best story possible. With the guide of an app called Story Game, each friend must telling a supernatural story set in Japan, featuring a character with green eyes. Each friend goes at it as they attempt to one up one another, as their narratives come to life.
Story Game has a fascinating concept to explore, and the fact that each of the friends specialize in a different kind of storytelling medium — James is a screenwriter, Chika is a graphic novelist, and Nicole is a novelist — adds an extra level of dimension as to how they approach each of their stories. It was also incredible to see how their stories play out, like short films all under one, cohesive umbrella.
That’s not to say that the film was a smooth straight shot. There are several parts of the film that were admittedly perplexing.
For example, one of the three elements each of the stories had to have is a character with green eyes; even if that character is Japanese. The eye color of the protagonist from Memoirs of a Geisha immediately came to mind, as a subtle glorification of Western features as being more attractive. While the choice is all part of the random story generator, it still comes off as odd in that regard.
Of the three stories told among the friends, it’s the second and third ones that were annoyingly unsurprising from the ones telling them. While James, the one male character of the trio, told a questionable tale of a demonized woman killing men, Nicole, a white woman, made hers a period piece, featuring — of course — samurai. Chika, the sole Asian American character of the trio, appears to also be the only one to actually tell a story that makes good use of the elements provided, without giving into tropes, and humanizes her cast of characters.
As the friends are each telling their stories, park ranger Silva (Ned Van Zandt) sits in as the judge. While he — very lightly — hints at something strange throughout the film, it’s not until near the end when it unfolds. Without going into specifics, what can be said is that there wasn’t as much set up as there could have been for it. It just felt like something completely out of the blue. Even more insight into who Silva is as a character could have made way for a smoother transition to the final part of the film.
Story Game has plenty to nitpick, but flaws aside, it’s still an entertaining film overall. It was shot on location in both Hawaii and Japan (in other words, expect for some beautiful cinematography), there’s friendly competition among the trio, and imaginations most certainly run wild. To re-emphasize from earlier, it’s a joy to watch a film that’s about and celebrates the art of storytelling. It’s an appropriate selection for a film festival where there’s so many stories to choose from in of itself.