Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Cinema One Originals: Piding and final thoughts

Piding begins with an (obviously fake) news sequence which sets us up for the rest of the film. The rest of the film is a rumination on that particular topic, and for all its flaws, I found the finished product quite fascinating.

The title is the local name of a real bird, the Calayan Rail, which is confined to a particular part of the Philippines. It had been undiscovered until recently. The rest of the movie builds a fictional narrative around that fact, taking us into the life of a slightly loopy researcher dealing with the loss of a child, a mysterious man who may or may not be his son, and the account of a failed joint Chinese-Filipino moon mission.

Piding delves into the aspect of science in the context of life, with this flightless bird, a genetic aberration to the eyes of the researcher, strutting around, while his own son lies dead. To him its a sign of irrationality in an otherwise rational world, and it tears his mind and beliefs apart. He's searching for his own idealized bird, God's Wrist, a sort of avian messiah - but it proves elusive. It is completely possible that this idealization may not exist at all, and what is rational and irrational may actually be in reverse.

There's also the notion that we, the Filipino people, are also a sort of flightless bird, if we take the space narrative and the idea of the piding side by side. We're held back, flying only on the backs of others, ourselves unable to reach the sky. For all our potential brainpower and talent, we're babies in the scientific community, with a society either unwilling or unable to support us. For someone like myself with a background in science, it affected me personally.

Piding's flaws lie in the fact that that's all there is to it, and a lot of scenes may seem like padding. The whole movie is relatively short at 70 minutes but it could have been done in under an hour. The film's symbolism and themes does help carrying it to the end in this regard. The film's ending, tying together the bird, past, present and future, wraps it all up quite nicely.

p.s. guys, don't capitalize the species name. Binomial nomenclature 101

***

Cinema One Originals 2016 Overall Thoughts

First of all, congratulations to the winners of the fest.

This has been one of the strangest lineups in Cinema One Originals ever since I started going to the fest a few years ago. Cinema One has never been shy to explore more experimental stuff in the past compared to other festivals (like Cinemalaya, who hasn't done a lot of non-narrative entries) but this year was something special. The results so far have been mixed in my opinion, though the most adventurous entries ranked among my favorites.

Other than I, Daniel Blake, I have been able to watch some of the other entries in the international showcase, although at different venues. All in all it's a very solid international program.

So, some random thoughts.

1. Venues - although I was sad that Resorts World Manila wasn't included in the lineup of theaters for this year's festival, I was happy that Cinematheque Manila was included in this year's participants. The place is literally walking distance from where I live in Manila, so it's a definite plus with regards to accessibility. I hope more Manila cinemas follow in its stead, because other than Cinemalaya Manila doesn't seem to give a crap about these fests (I miss Cinemanila a bit already.)

2. Scheduling - the complete lineup of the festival is quite expansive - 47 entries - and watching them is a formidable challenge. Theoretically, if one sticks to just one location, he or she could watch all the festival films in no time. For the person on the go, students, or people with jobs (around 80% of the intended audience), catching a competition film during weekdays or weekends is a logistical nightmare. I can live with watching less films if it means I can watch all of them. The other alternative would be more venues.

3. The festival pass system - it's modeled after the QCinema pass system, which means you buy a pass, exchange that at the booths nearby, then exchange that for an actual ticket. the festival pass entitles you to more than a 60% discount compared to the regular ticket price. Personally I don't mind the price; the true premium with these passes should be accessibility. I've seen many screenings sold out in a blink (ever tried catching Baka Bukas or 2Cool 2 Be 4Gotten in the latter half of the fest?) so priority access to these screenings would be a definite plus. However, I'm not sure if this kind of system is feasible with mall cinemas, who have their own system for accounting ticket sales.

4. The Documentary category - I'd love to tell you about how, in the strictest definition of the word, the only true documentary in this lineup was Forbidden Memory, but to be honest there isn't any strict definition of documentary anywhere, so in this context 'documentary' could mean almost anything. These documentaries are unlike any I've ever seen in my life. But hey, films like Bodysong are technically documentaries, so what do I know. 

Maybe make an 'experimental' category so that people know what they're getting into? I've personally seen a number of moviegoers go into these kinds of films and feel cheated or fooled because they have a certain concept of what a documentary is. Just a suggestion.

That's about it. Only one local filmfest is left, and that's the reformed MMFF. It looks promising, but we'll see what happens next month! Until then, see you at the movies.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Cinema One Originals: Forbidden Memory, Every Room is a Planet, Malinak Ya Labi

"Remembering is a sorrowful thing," one of the interviewees in Teng Mangansakan's Forbidden Memory declares. And indeed, this oral history surrounding the events of the 1974 Malisbong Massacre is a hard watch. But these are memories that should not be forgotten, in light of recent events. In a way, this film is a service, a gift for future generations, a warning to all that this must not happen again.

Its truths ring more true than any fake news site peddling lies and bullshit, as it comes directly from the mouths of the survivors of the massacre - part of an oppressive string of military operations that destroyed many innocent lives.

The stories are heartwrenching, and many say that they would never have told these stories otherwise. Yet their stories are only a small part of the deaths, rapes and incidents of torture that happened during that time. These events created towns of widows and orphans, with many not knowing to this day where their loved ones are buried.

Haunting are the pictures of the people, taken by an American who observed the beginnings of the operation, showing the townspeople rounded up in the tens, maybe hundreds, before the carnage. And disturbing is the coda to the film, showing a nation that has already forgotten this forbidden memory, choosing instead to forget and glorify a dictator as a hero.

Perhaps even more tragic is that Malisbong is only one of many atrocities committed against the Moro people during the Martial Law era. I would not be surprised if many people, enraged by these atrocities, went on to rebel against the government, a consequence of Marcos' all out war.

To forget these memories is to sanitize history. To forget is to deny the truth. And the denial of truth - almost nothing is as heinous. But nothing will ever erase this bloody stain in our history - just as, even now, shadows of bloody palm prints still exist in the mosque in Malisbong.


Every Room is a Planet is quite the strange experience. On paper it's a love story about a guy, his mentally unstable sister in law, and everything else around them. But on screen is a different story. The visual presentation of the film is mesmerizing. The film takes its title literally, with every room delineated by its own unique visuals - the outside being monochrome, a therapist's office awash with reds, and a personal space bathed in a warm instagram-like filter. Doors open and close with the sound of a science fiction airlock.

It all takes a while getting used to, and the film as a whole does takes its time getting to the meat of the story, easing us towards the revelations near the middle of the film. It keeps us deliberately in the dark regarding the missing brother in law, and whether the woman's psychoses are real or not. At times it descends into tedium, and it can get clunky or boring in places.

But when things get going, they get very strange, in a very good way. The presentation is fresh and interesting, although thanks to that same presentation style, it doesn't always work out. The strangeness hinges with Valeen Montenegro's performance, whose psyche unfolds in a nuanced manner, her quirks and instability rubbing off on Rap Fernandez's character.

This is honestly a hard film to pin down. It treads the line of experimental stuff, but not too much as to become frustrating. I recommend a watch, especially to those who have seen Javier's previous work and want to see an evolution in style.

And finally, we have Malinak Ya Labi (Silent Night), a regional feature from Pangasinan. The story tells itself in segments that proceed in reverse (the first scene is actually the last chronological scene in the film) ala Memento, and its premise, that of ritual sacrifice and a string of murders, seems tantalizing.

However, the film suffers from one really glaring sin: it is too preoccupied with being showy and gimmicky in its presentation. We don't just get a drone shot, we get a gratuitous drone shot that seems unnecessary. We don't just get slow motion, we get an entire sequence (minutes long) in slow motion that becomes tedious. The reverse narrative becomes frustrating, existing only for the sake of its gimmick, robbing the film of its form until more than halfway through. At times the editing becomes awkward, and some scenes don't really work because of this.

It's a shame, since the movie seems to talk about interesting issues: it talks about the dirty little secrets people keep even in small communities. It talks about how those in power are no less trustworthy than your neighbor (maybe even less so.) It talks about things about society we'd rather not talk about. It talks about tradition and sacrifice, about how our most vulnerable are susceptible to the whims of the deceitful. But the message is lost in the delivery.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Cinema One Originals: Dayang Asu, Tisay, Lily, People Power Bombshell

It's a dark, dark world in Bor Ocampo's Dayang Asu, where corruption seeps from every corner. The film does have a loose plot, but it's more concerned with immersing us into this world. Nobody is completely innocent in this grimy milieu: there are only victims and victimizers. And the victims, unless they fight back, they get fucked real hard.

And yet the scariest thing about it is that these things happen in real life (Remember Jalosjos?) This is closer to reality than it is a parallel universe.

Given that most of the 'protagonists' aren't exactly saints, it's hard to sympathize with any of them. But that becomes the point of the movie. When survival becomes the only option, you have to become the monsters you despise - otherwise you become another corpse on the road.

The film's questions linger with you. It doesn't really explain why these people are acting this way, only that this world exists. It leaves you to ponder how it all ended up like this, if it's a fucked up quirk of human nature and we're all doomed to walk the same paths.

The film relies on an ensemble cast, and special mention goes to Ricky Davao, who goes from his usual recent lovable dad roles to a twisted perversion of that same role. Junjun Quintana, who had a really good acting year in 2015, is good, but he's relegated to the sidelines until the very last act of the film.

The film is relentlessly heavy, exhausting even. Even a few moments of levity may not be sufficient to keep you from drowning in its darkness. But to those with the stomach to dive its depths, Dayang Asu asks very relevant questions about the justness of our society as a whole.

No poster, enjoy a Nathalie Hart pic instead.
Tisay, Borgy Torre's latest directorial effort, is filled to the brim with technical polish: crisp, beautiful visuals, a great soundtrack, decent acting from everyone involved. Its titular character (Nathalie Hart, a.k.a. Princess Snell) is a streetwise bookie making her way through the world. She's ready to use whatever is necessary to get what she wants. It's always been a selfish game for her, but her encounter with a up and coming semi pro basketball player tips that game ever so slightly off balance.

The film generates a decent amount of tension as the parties involved get into a dangerous and deadly game worth hundreds of thousands of pesos. This is Nathalie Hart's first major role and she delivers for what it's worth, oozing a bit of sex appeal and edge at the same time.

However, the film does have flaws. it is built upon an awkward romance that isn't developed  as well as it should be, preferring to dive in headfirst into its main story after only a few minutes of the two characters meeting together and bonding, and that really drags down the rest of the film. There's a lot of violence in the movie, both sexual and otherwise, and at times it crosses the line into ridiculous territory. After the nth time someone gets raped or maimed, it becomes distracting.

Like the previous film in this post, Tisay is a film about surviving in a shitty world. The entertainment value mainly stems from the question of whether or not Tisay is finally doing something for someone else for a change, or if she's still the same person from the beginning of the film. Tisay may not have hit the buzzer beater, but it still manages to score points in overtime for a close win.

Lily is not really a horror film, and leaving this preconception by the door enhanced my appreciation of the movie. It's more of a revenge flick with supernatural elements, presented with a uniquely regional flavor.

It's based on an urban legend, used by numerous mothers and yayas in the Visayas in the past to justify why little kids should go home early. The film is non linear, taking us on two different narratives: in the 90's, Manuel discovers a strange woman in the forest. In the 2000's, we see him with a different woman, with Lily hot on his tail, a bloody swath of bodies in her wake. Pieceing together the fractured plot and figuring out a) why Manuel and Lily separated b) why Lily has a gash across her face and c) if Lily really is a supernatural creature or just a revenge-obsessed woman is half the fun. But even then, the film throws in all sorts of curveballs, where in the end none of the narrators may be reliable, their truths hidden under drug induced trances or lies.

Some of the film's regional contexts may be lost on a non Cebuano viewer. Luckily the S.O. is from Cebu, who filled me in regarding these smaller details. Some of the references (like casting Porto, a character in Cebuano TV,) are tongue in cheek, while others (the sigbin, a chupacabra like creature that feeds on blood and charcoal) are closer to home.

Its visual presentation is quite interesting as well, with a bit of a punk sensibility to it. There are some points in the movie, however, whose presentation seemed to either be a bit too rushed or too stylized, such as the end of the film. Lily is an interesting flick, best viewed with no preconceptions. It represents the variety regional cinema can bring us that capital-centric films simply do not have.

Speaking of preconceptions, I came into People Power Bombshell: the Diary of Vietnam Rose thinking it was a documentary. In reality, it is more of an anti-documentary in experimental form, where reality, fiction and metafiction meld into a strange metahistorical experience.

The film is mostly formless, but it follows Liz Alindogan's thoughts as she tries to complete the (ultimately incomplete, IIRC) shooting of Celso Ad Castillo's The Diary of Vietnam Rose.

Within its anti narrative I saw postcolonial western influences on our cinema and a struggle for relevancy and identity in an age where irrelevance and homogenization threaten society. It reflects itself on its frames, designed to look like they came from old or ruined film stock, also a characterization of our collective fading memory and grip reality.

That's just my take on it, since with these experimental flicks you get only what you can take.

The film does have a few technical issues, such as some frames where it seems like the effects layer was not dragged over the entire frame. Otherwise it looks like the filmmaker got his desired effect.

People Power Bombshell may prove a challenging, even frustrating watch. It requires a certain knowledge of the history presented, which I admittedly am not completely aware of. But, like with all pieces of abstract art, people can find beauty in it. Your mileage may vary.

note: made a small edit at the end of this post.
note 2: made an edit at the Lily post, sabay pinagalitan ako kasi hindi daw ako nakikinig ng mabuti. hehe

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Cinema One Originals: I, Daniel Blake, Shorts Program

I, Daniel Blake ends with a heartfelt, heartbreaking declaration of humanity in a world that is quickly losing it. Its titular character is an elderly carpenter who has recently recovered from a heart attack. He's not yet fit for work, but due to circumstances beyond his control, he's deemed fit for work by the state, rendering him unable to collect unemployment benefits. He then sets out to reinstate those benefits, pitting him against the most formidable, obstinate foe anyone has ever faced: the bureaucracy of a national government.

Welfare systems should be designed to make the process easy for people to get the things they need, but instead the opposite is true. The humanity of these systems has been removed, turning the system into something aimed to frustrate people and wear them down, chipping away at them like a wood chipper. Sometimes the system works but it's horribly bogged down. More often than not, good people are left on the streets.

Daniel faces this challenge with his head up high, even though things grow even more desperate for him and the people around him. As a widower, he faces this battle mostly alone, and throughout the film he does not seek pity or charity. His struggle to keep his dignity is the cornerstone of the film, his principles based on a background of carpentry - when something is wrong, all you have to do is fix it. It's seen in Daniel's motif - a fish - whose only wish is to swim free and unabated. I, Daniel Blake is social realism at its finest - where society's ills are exposed through a single beacon of humanity.

***

We Want Short Shorts Short Cinema One 2016 Shorts Reviews

Maria, a short about a family of 22 welcoming their latest child, is relevant, and sounds ridiculous at first when you realize these things do happen in real life. Then the context gets disturbing. Life and death in 10-15 minutes.

Yes Mami's premise is simple, comedic but also very relevant in today's society. If someone wants more progressive roles in performance arts and media, why not, coconut?

Outside is visually cute, and its premise resembles one of the entries in the omnibus film Tokyo! but it puts its own Filipino millennial spin to it. The film is quite nice, though it drags a bit at points. Props to the main actress for making it work.

Buang Bulawan is fairly entertaining, but it shoves a lot of context near the end for the sake of character development. I don't know if the film could have worked as a longer feature (probably not), but we could have developed the relationship between its two antagonists in a different way, instead of relying on flashbacks.

Lope was part of Anatomiya ng Pag-Ibig. It's weird, but it talks about interesting things about the gap between generations and love and hidden pain.

Paano Nangyari ang Hindi Nangyari is even more relevant today ever since we were legally permitted to bury garbage in the Republic Memorial Cemetery yesterday. The aural parallel at the end was a genius move.

Hasa did nothing for me. It has a lot of backstory in the synopsis that isn't in the actual film, and could not be figured out through subtext.

Sandra is like Pepe Diokno's Kapatiran but for girls. It's extremely weird but I found myself liking it for some reason.

Papang is very short and straightforward, establishing a story in 3 minutes that other shorts could not do in 15. The picture quality is not the best.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Cinema One Originals: Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi, 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten

Yesterday I was able to attend a special screening of the restored version of Nagalit ang Buwan sa Haba ng Gabi. It's an immensely enjoyable film with a lot of memorable lines, even though it strays into melodrama in some parts.

Mistress movies aren't a new thing - they've been around at least since the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema, where moviegoers waited for the inevitable confrontation between wife and querida. Even back in 1983, Danny Zialcita was taking the genre to insane limits with this movie.

The film involves your seemingly standard love polygon - Delza (Laurice Guillen), the long suffering wife, Stella (Gloria Diaz), the mistress, and Miguel (Dindo Antonio), the adulterous husband. Put in a few more vertices in that love polygon, such as gay spouse Dimitri (Eddie Garcia) and Delza's former suitor (Tommy Abuel), and a couple of other characters that would constitute a major spoiler - and you have a major entertaining clusterfuck of epic proportions.

The film thrives because of its many moments of levity and wit - the film knows its audience, it knows what kind of film it is and it runs with it. It fills itself to the brim with twists and ideas that it almost reaches the territory of camp, but in my opinion avoids this pitfall thanks to the dialogue.

In many mistress movies, the man is often the source of all the film's problems. And in fact, most of the film's major male characters are terrible persons. They walk through the film without a shred of loyalty, and their affections are as capricious as a bee flitting from flower to flower. In its treatment, it's almost as if the film mocks this idea of machismo, where the men are automatically free from consequence. There's one exchange of dialogue forgiving men cheating and having bastards because they're men, while indicting women for the same crimes. I don't know how feminism stood in the Philippines in the early eighties, but the incredulity in the audience reaction (and the fact that it's still quite relevant in today's largely patriarchal society) is telling.

On the other hand, the females try to conform to societal norms and be dutiful wives and mothers, even though the circumstances dictated by the men grow even more insane. They try to keep the family together and place themselves above their men and their animalistic passions, insisting that they are civilized - they are above all that shit. But even then, they live in a gilded cage.

The film is technically sound, with some clever tracking shots and blocking. The acting is decent to good all around, and you can tell everyone enjoys playing their characters. The film does get bogged down in melodrama and it telegraphs its punches more often than not. But it does throw in a left hook from nowhere that forces you to rethink the context of the entire movie.

It's a pretty fun movie to watch, and I recommend you catch it when it comes out (again) on cinemas or DVD.

Time for one of the competition films. At first glance, 2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten seems like a simple expansion of Petersen Vargas' short film Lisyun qng Geografia. But the film takes us into far deeper places, creating a fully realized, visually impressive experience.

The film recontextualizes the allegories seen in Jason Laxamana's Mercury is Mine into what is basically a high school youth film with darker undertones. It parallels our complicated relationship with the United States and our fascination with American culture, even though the Americans have long abandoned their bases. Our main character, Felix (Khalil Ramos) is a schoolboy whose life is changed when two Fil-Am brothers enter the school. He is immediately fascinated by the older brother, Magnus, who seeks help with homework. On the other hand, the younger brother, Maxim, is more or less a psychopath, and he has much darker plans in store for his family.

It's important to remember the setting of the movie: it's the nineties, and the United States has just withdrawn its military presence in the aftermath of the Mount Pinatubo eruption. Magnus and Maxim represent two different possibilities of this withdrawal - the former, a peaceful, mutual coexistence, the latter, a violent severing of ties. Felix, on the other hand, writes in his journal with a bit of smug naivete - his fixation on the brothers proves to be his undoing. (He also has the worst timing ever.)

On the other side of the coin, many characters exploit the two brothers physically, even sexually, which only reflects how we exploited the Americans for our own needs, a strange kind of mutual parasitism where both parties harm each other for our own benefit. Even after the Americans have left (perhaps, as suggested in one of the scenes, due to divine providence), they took something away from us, leaving us nursing a phantom pain.

The filmmaking behind the film is actually nothing short of amazing, even more impressive considering this is Vargas' first feature length. Each frame is carefully crafted, each frame tells its own story behind the story. Vargas' visual style expands the visual ideas he established in Lisyun, making his characters only truly comfortable with each other, where otherwise they are desolate and incomplete.

2 Cool 2 Be Forgotten is an impressive first effort. I look forward to future projects from the burgeoning Kapampangan film movement, which is quickly proving itself to be a force to be reckoned with in regional cinema.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Cinema One Originals: Baka Bukas

Baka Bukas throws us right into the end of a relationship, as Alex is in the process of separating amicably from her partner Kate. Alex has a best friend, Jess, who is a well known TV actress. Due to a trick of fate, Jess learns that Alex is a lesbian, and their relationship begins to evolve.

I admire what Baka Bukas is trying to do, portraying a lesbian relationship in the context of contemporary Philippine society. While we see a lot of depictions of gay romance in local cinema, depictions of lesbian romances are a bit rare.

Its treatment of the romance departs from the loud, flamboyant style that is a pitfall for many romantic films, straight or not. It's a surprisingly gentle approach, with lots of contemplative, quiet moments. Its visuals, lensed by Sasha Palomares and designed by Whammy Alcazaren, are awash with pastel colors, warm brown tones, and subtle flashes of orange and violet, reflecting the characters' moods. And despite a couple of moments of levity, the film is quite somber, as emotions are often kept hidden, paralleling the film's title: a half-hearted promise to let these emotions out, not today, maybe tomorrow.

Because of those emotions left unsaid, there's a tinge of awkwardness in many of the scenes of the movie. And I don't mean it in a bad way - this awkwardness is from the fact that everyone knows what's being said, but no one is saying it. It's only when these emotions are let out, when the characters let themselves be and live their lives in the now, when there's a resolution to the whole thing.

The film could not have worked without Jasmine Curtis. She's a phenomenal actress; conveying these hidden emotions very well. She acts tough, in control, when deep inside she's actually hurting from the pressures of society at large. And if there was ever an 'antagonist' in this film, it's a society that doesn't fully accept what Alex is, judging her at the same time.

The film is not perfect. There are a few cheesy lines, and I thought the film could have concentrated more on the development of Alex and Jess' relationship as best friends, and let it simmer more before diving wholesale into it.

Based on its treatment, Baka Bukas is a very personal film. There may be some areas where the story proves rough around the edges, but it has a lot of pretty profound moments hidden beneath its gentle exterior.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Cinephilia On The Go: Hong Kong Edition Part 2: The Films

Lee Sang Il's Rage (Ikari) begins with a grisly double murder. The film then splits into three narratives, all involving people with mysterious pasts. One of these three people may have committed the murder. But who?

Much like his film Akunin (2010), Rage is based on a novel, and contains copious amounts of emotional violence. At the same time, it ruminates on the concepts of guilt, shame, and anger in Japanese society. It can be read as a reflection of this anger in its lynchpin story, paralleling Japan's strained relationship with US bases in Okinawa.

The anger in this film is not the kind of anger that displays itself openly, through a person's tatemae or facade, instead, it focuses on the rage building up on the inside, fomenting in the honne of the Japanese psyche. This rage is tempered by shame and regret, but it tears up its victims, burning them alive from the inside out. Whether it be the shame of an act that never be avenged, or the shame of hiding one's true self or a dark past, this shame haunts the characters of the film up to its inevitable conclusion.

On the other side of the coin, the film talks about trust - in each of the three stories, our drifters are met with differing reactions from the characters around them - they are either trusted too much, distrusted too easily, or some combination of the two. The film can also be read as a treatise on how the Japanese treat people on the fringes of society - themes that are not uncommon in Lee's other works such as Scrap Heaven or the aforementioned Akunin. Lee himself is a Zainichi Korean, a group which was itself marginalized for a long time after WWII, so it can be easy to see why this film may be personal as well.

The ensemble cast is excellent as always, but props have to go out to young newcomer Suzu Hirose, whose performance in this film proves she isn't only suited to teenybopper or cutesy roles. The film's heavy emotional weight is underscored by Ryuichi Sakamoto's score.

The film's final act may seem a bit too melodramatic to some, but it underlines the film's main thesis - that healing begins when rage is released via catharsis. It might not sit well with foreign audiences, but it's an ending that feels Japanese, if that makes any sense.

Once in a while a movie comes along that reminds me why I love watching movies so much. This year, it's Makoto Shinkai's Kimi no na wa (otherwise known as Your name.) Although objectively his earlier Garden of Words is better conceptually, this movie simply hits all the right notes, creating an unforgettable experience, anime or not.

The movie is best seen blind, but if you want to know the basics of the plot: it involves a strange phenomenon where Tokyoite Taki and country girl Mitsuha start switching bodies. It's an anime trope that's been used before, but not this well in my opinion. Through their interactions in each other's bodies, they learn even more about each other, and strike up a weird friendship (though they never meet each other during this time).

Soon the plot drives forward in unexpected ways, and the movie takes us through every twisty step. It also has a lot of the romantic tones of Shinkai's earlier 5cm per second and Garden of Words, as well as a tinge of magical realism.

It's also a very relevant film that seems to follow the cinematic themes of Japanese film post 3/11: Kimi no na wa's themes of remembering a loved one probably rings true with many Japanese audiences, especially after the great loss the country incurred during the recent earthquake and tsunami. It establishes remembrance as a way to keep people in one's heart forever. At the same time, it's a movie that greatly respects the unity of traditional and modern Japan, Taki and Mitsuha embodying both aspects of Japanese culture that are distinct, yet symbiotic. Its emphasis on understanding is made literal as the two characters wear each others' shoes, and learn something about themselves in the process.

As with all Makoto Shinkai movies, the visuals are gorgeous, and it was an absolute treat watching this in a proper 4K cinema (watching a Makoto Shinkai movie in less than 720p resolution is an absolute travesty in my opinion). The Japanese band RADWIMPS takes care of the soundtrack, and their post-rock inspired tunes suit the movie very well.

With that all said, Kimi no na wa is one of Makoto Shinkai's most realized films (if not his most realized film). And it's simply one of my favorite films of the year. It's visually gorgeous, and its story is heartwarming and tender. That's as good a recommendation as I can give you.

Mozu The Movie is the sequel to a two season police procedural/mystery drama series, and relies heavily on said drama for background information. Since I haven't seen the series yet, I basically had little idea what was going on at any one time. Nevertheless, the movie does have a few interesting moments that keep it from being totally incomprehensible.

The film's plot, based on what I can piece together, involves a shadowy organization controlling Japanese politics, a league of mysterious children with barcodes on their napes, and a group of cartoonishly hammy assassins. The movie seems to be pulling out all the stops, even though it doesn't seem to be necessary. It might have been the same tone as the original drama, so I don't know either way.

Most of the film is shot in Manila, with extended scenes of our characters eating at a karinderia, fistfighting and blowing up stuff at the Pier area, going on extended car chases near Market Market, running through slums, or waxing poetic near the PNR tracks. The characters even speak Tagalog in parts. But wait, it isn't the Philippines, it's a fictional Southeast Asian country called Penam, no doubt because it shows the grimiest most unflattering areas of the city. The weirdness of it is actually quite entertaining, though most of the mirth may have been lost on Japanese and (in this case, Hong Kong) audiences.

If you take it only for the action, Mozu isn't so bad, but those looking for a story without the proper context should probably take their movie money elsewhere.

At the age of 85, veteran filmmaker Yoji Yamada still churns out a movie every few years. this 2015 film, Nagasaki: Memories of My Son, was selected as Japan's entry to the best Foreign Film Oscar race. While it's a straight out melodrama, it really doesn't reach cheesy levels and remains a poignant, touching and even funny in some parts.

The film revolves around Nobuko (legendary actress Sayuri Yoshinaga), who has lost her entire family thanks to the war, last of all her son Koji, who was a victim of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. However, he comes back as a ghost, helping Nobuko with her acceptance, and reminiscing about happier times as a family.

The setting of the movie is postwar Japan - a country reeling from its humiliating defeat in World War II. The war took its toll on the people as well, as many people lost their families during the war. War always takes away, the film admonishes, it never gives. Nagasaki deals with the aftermath of the war and the devastation, as well as the economic hardships suffered by the Japanese during this time, and the futility of war itself. Despite this, Nobuko keeps steadfast, dutifully preparing a meal for a son that will never come home (at least, not as a ghost.) It's a reflection of her job as a midwife, someone that brings new life into this world, as opposed to taking it.

Nobuko's story is filled with quiet flashbacks of her life with her son as she watches him grow up. Even though the setting of the film is incredibly depressing, the film manages to find a modicum of hope and optimism in Nobuko's situation. Even though she has lost her entire family, others still care for her in their place. Its themes of family resonate throughout Yamada's works, even his earlier films. Even his later films operate on this premise - one of his later works is a remake of Ozu's Tokyo Story.

The ending might strike some as a bit hokey, but it signifies a peace of mind that can only come with acceptance, of the will to move on despite the odds.

(this is a poster for the first film)
And finally, I treated myself to a special advance screening of Midnight Diner 2 (otherwise known as Zoku Shinya Shokudou; the movie doesn't formally premiere in Hong Kong until December), the second movie adaptation of the wildly successful TV drama that has proven popular in a lot of Asian countries, especially Korea, who has made their own version of the show. If you haven't seen the show yet, I wholeheartedly recommend it - you can find the first season on Netflix.

On the other hand, Midnight Diner 2 is pretty self contained, as it adapts the same episodic formula as the original series and the first movie. It's basically three standalone episodes merged together to form a feature length feature. This is in no way a bad thing, as the individual stories are just as interesting as any episode of the series.

The film's stories deal with moving on, letting go of the past, and death (funerals figure in a major way during the first of the three stories). They range from simple, to heartwarming to emotionally devastating (the third story, about an amnesiac granny that everyone helps out, is particularly affecting.) It's all served with the distinct flavor of bittersweetness that exemplifies the show as a whole.

While it stands alone just fine, the movie does throw in a few treats to people  who have seen the series. Various characters from the first three seasons of the show appear in supporting roles at one point or another. The acting is generally excellent across the board (and it's fun to see Mikako Tabe again after a long time not seeing her in anything.) All in all, it's really enjoyable stuff, and if this is your introduction to the Midnight Diner series, I recommend checking the rest of their stuff out.

Monday, November 14, 2016

Cinephilia On The Go: Hong Kong Edition Part 1

Before I get to covering the Cinema One Film Festival this week, let's talk about something else for a moment. This last week I've been to Hong Kong on business, but while I was there, instead of going to the usual tourist haunts, I decided to take in a bit of cinema.

Foreign movies in Hong Kong almost always have Chinese and English subtitles, depending on the language of the feature. They take in a lot more foreign films from the mainland, Korea and Japan compared to here in the Philippines, which is a boon to anyone wanting to discover a few new cinematic gems. Sadly, domestic Hong Kong cinema itself hasn't been as prominent as it used to be, and I only noticed a handful of Chinese movies on screen.

Ticket prices range from around 75-100HKD (400-600 php) depending on the type of the movie, and what time of the day you came to watch.

Unlike here in the Philippines, where the vast majority of cinemas operate attached to a mall, Hong Kong has a mix of both mall cineplexes and independent moviehouses. During my visit, I went to one of each.

First, I went to the Broadway Cinematheque in Kowloon. This place is a decent sized cineplex that focuses on showing indie films, film festivals and other arty productions. Unfortunately for me, I just missed several film festivals that had been going on earlier in the month, and my departure was just weeks away from another upcoming film fest with Spanish films. It's a spacious, comfortable cinema with lots of legroom (always a plus - looking at you, Robinson's Galleria) and decent, if not good sound and projection. Inside the cinema house is a book store and several DVD shops, whose selections range the entire gamut of World Cinema, everything from Eisenstein's Battleship Potemkin to Shunji Iwai's Fried Dragon Fish, not to mention several Criterion Collection discs and hard to find items.

(le drool)

The second theater place I went to was The Grand Cinemas, which is part of the Elements Mall in Kowloon. The Elements is a pretty classy mall, and I expected a classy theater. I was right. Even more comfortable seats (the leg room is insane), crisp and bright Sony 4K Digital Cinema (super appropriate for one of the movies I saw on the list,) and Shaw Active Sound, which is this surround sound system where you can hear the deep bass pounding you from every direction. Tickets can be purchased or reserved via kiosks that let you pay via Octopus card.

So what did I watch? Stay tuned for that.