In the seventeen stories that make up Made in Hawaii, Cedric Yamanaka celebrates the different cultures in Hawaii that mix and mingle, sometimes in harmony and sometimes not. The stories are mostly dark, far from the vacation paradise and the beaches, luaus, volcano tours, and perhaps a visit to the Pearl Harbor National Memorial that attract holiday-makers. This is not the Hawaii advertised on travel brochures.
The collection begins with “Something About the Reef, the Tide, the Undertow”, a title that hints at death. It centers around a young boy named Lowell Botelho who lives with his parents and sister Renee. His mom loves to tell stories, but one day she becomes the subject of a true one.
Nine people died today during a reef walk off Diamond Head. Witnesses say the group of teachers and students were on a field trip when a series of large waves caught them by surprise. Some of the victims were knocked into the ocean and panicked. Others were pulled out into deeper water where they drowned. “It was a freak accident,” said windsurfer Sonny Souza. “It must’ve been something about the tide, the reef, the undertow.”
In “Tending Bar at the Happy Parrot Chinese Restaurant”, Timothy Louie is a martial arts film buff and thought he’d work as a bartender after graduating high school for a couple years until he was discovered by Hollywood or Hong Kong film directors. Movies had become his life starting in his teens.
I’d skip out of math and catch the bus to the rat-infested American Theater in Chinatown—next to the Prince Hanalei All-Male review at the Glades Nightclub—and watch the immortal Wang Yu in those One-Armed Swordsman movies. Or I spent countless Sunday afternoons in the old Liberty and Empress Theater—admiring the exploits of David Chang, Ti Lung, Yueh Hua and Alexander Fu Sheng in Run Run Shaw films about flying guillotines and heads for sale. Other times I sat in the New Kokusai—surrounded by glossy portraits of famous Japanese film stars hanging neatly on the wall—and watched Zatoichi the Blind Swordsman flicks. Then, of course, came Bruce Lee. And then everything changed. Bruce Lee was so big, they showed his movies in haole theaters.
But his bartending stint turns into a career spanning a decade. Now in his late twenties, Timothy thinks he may finally have found his big break in martial arts films when a famous (fictional) actor visits the Happy Parrot. Like most of the stories in this collection, disappointment and loss prevail at the end.
“Dances with Kristy” takes on a noir tone when a high school boy named Jeff asks the prettiest girl at the YMCA to dance with him. Ten years pass until they meet again. Jeff is working as a waiter when he sees a poster advertising the Miss Honolulu pageant and recognizes Kristy, his dance partner in high school, as one of the contestants. The two reconnect and Jeff learns that Kristy’s father is none other than mob boss, Samuel Hookano.
In the mid-1960s, the previous mob boss was brutally murdered and found in the trunk of a Cadillac on New Year’s Eve.
There was no identification on the body—no driver’s license, no credit cards, no wallet. The fact of the matter is when the two police officers opened the car trunk and found Lloyd “Waikiki Boy” Naha, they found only what was left of the top half of him. To this day, everything from the belt down remains missing. The crime caused a stir. The police brought in one man for questioning, but he was released pending further investigation. That man was Samuel Hookano, Kristy’s father. The theory goes that Samuel Hookano was a lieutenant in the Waikiki Boy’s hui.
Yamanaka’s Hawaii is more sobering than that depicted in American television shows set there—The Brady Bunch, Hawaii Five-O, and Charlie’s Angels among them—that are referred to in some of the stories. His a real place with real people, not the honeymoon paradise or Hollywood set most people would like to believe.