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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

entry arrow3:27 PM | One

This song, a cover of a U2 classic and interpreted to new rawness by Mary J. Blige, gets to your guts and rips out every strand of beautiful anger. And it's strange, because this is my anthem now. And you, of all people, gave this to me.

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entry arrow12:12 AM | After Harana

[photo courtesy of nazer salcedo]

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

entry arrow10:49 PM | Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal

I'm not exactly sure what happened. But I can't stop listening to this song. It began that Saturday night when, at the end of their concert for "Harana" at the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium, the ensemble from the Philippine Opera Company decided to do an encore. They chose "Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal," a popular Filipino folk song composed by the National Artist for Music Ernani Joson Cuenco with lyrics by Levi Celerio, another National Artist. They belted out the song as they roamed the auditorium house, shaking everybody's hands. The audience, at full capacity for the Luce, were already in awe from the concert itself: the result was electric. It brought tears to my eyes.

Since then, I can't stop listening to this song. The clip above is from Legaci, an acapella group from the U.S. Here's one more, arranged by international conductor Redentor Romero and played by the Moscow Symphony Orchestra...

I don't know why this song just speaks to me at this moment. Maybe because of its overwhelming drama? It is a song after all where the lover declares his undying love for the beloved. He assures the beloved that he/she is the only one in his life and assures him/her that his love will not fade, "tulad din ng umagang may pag-asang sumisikat." Ouch. So anyway...

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entry arrow7:00 PM | High School Blues, Sixteen Years Too Late

There's something I need to get off my chest. I don't know why this bothers me so. This is usually something I totally ignore -- but my mind keeps returning to this, like the way we do with scabs we love to pick, again and again. I have a high school classmate. A girl. Pretty, let's just say. She was normal in high school, I guess. I don't really remember her much. And I'm actually closer to her younger sister. This one hasn't been to any of the reunions, so I have completely forgotten her. Last May, she added me in Facebook. I remembered her name, it sounded familiar. "Hey, it's that girl," I said. I clicked "Confirm."

Let's call her Suzy J.

The next day, Suzy J. writes me a dramatic letter. How she has never forgiven me for something. You see, in Silliman High, we have this tradition in the Junior Sillimanian, the high school paper, where specific members of the roster of graduating honor students would write an assigned essay. One is the Class Will and Testament, where the Graduating Seniors bequeath responsibilities -- even talent! and specific things like books and what-not! -- to the members of the Junior Class. Another one is the Class Prophecy, where an appointed "prophet" predicts the future of the Seniors. Here we marry off each other, give each other fantastic jobs, and exile each other to even more fantastic foreign lands. All in good fun of course.

Come to think of it, I think I wrote both. Anyway...

Suzy J. wrote me in Facebook [unedited]:

Ian, you forgot to put my name as one of your classmates who have a golden voice in the Last Will and Testament in Highschool... Marrianne Joy Ga was defeated by me in the Singing Contest. I always won singing contest inspite of me being Philosopo .. i am not that ugly... I also have a golden voice... Anyway, I understand although I was deeply hurt by it.. You must have been busy studying you forgot to know your classmates more... I understand that you need to study because you need to... I just want to express how I felt about the Last Will and Testament you gave years back.. What a relief I finally said that to you.. God bless you... But I am thankful you never failed to know I've got brains more than I have the body and I love you for that.. It is just that I reaally do have a lovely voice.. hehhehhhe. LOL...

My immediate reaction went this way: Sheeesh, girl. High school was fifteen years ago. Grow up! I never replied. Still, I categorized her in one of my many Facebook friend tags, and in her particular case: "High School Buddies" + "No Chat Zone."

The other week, at the apex of preparations for the opening of the 48th Cultural Season of Silliman University, where I am a member of the Cultural Affairs Committee [in charge of publicity and general programming], I sent invitations of our upcoming events for the year to specific people. Facebook helps a lot. And tags in Facebook help in selecting special targets; and because this was a Silliman event, I naturally included in the invitation everybody categorized as a "High School Buddy."

She soon replied with something terse: "Stop sending me invitations. I'm in Ateneo now."

In that haughty tone that just riles you up. It says, I'm in Arneo now, I cahn't be bothered.

I replied: "Hormonal much. No wonder I don't remember you from high school."

Because I can be a big bitch, too, you know.



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Monday, June 28, 2010

entry arrow12:52 PM | A Memory in White

Five days before I left Tokyo for Hokkaido, I was on a train, the Chuo Line bound for Musashi-sakai from Shinjuku. It was a regular day—nothing much was of interest, and I stared blankly into the mass of people surrounding me, thinking only of the bed that waited for me in my dorm room.

Suddenly, two elderly Japanese women erupted into a furious catfight, despite the heavy passenger crowd inside the train. It happened in front of me. They went about it in a strange stranglehold—no shouting or screaming, just two women locked in a furious quiet, battling each other. I felt embarrassed for them. And nobody, not one among us, attempted to separate them.

When the train doors opened at the next station, the wintry air suddenly blasted in, and they both got off in their quiet huff, still clutching each other’s clothes, gripping tight each other’s hair.

Then the train chugged on, everybody occupied in their own private shells, all in our own journeys to some future where there would soon be an abundance of so much coldness.

My first sight of snow was from above, up in the air—it was little patches of white sectioned in parts in the vast brown earth below in Hokkaido, as my plane from Tokyo started its maneuvering for eventual landing. Farther on, the white patches spread—and I remember suddenly exclaiming: “It looks like a giant vanilla cake!” They all laughed.

But it’s true. Snow is the icing of wintry earth, although a more apt simile is of a spread of vanilla ice cream over a loaf of rye bread.

Hokkaido looked as wild as the guidebooks contended it would be: vast pristine forests, frozen lakes, and rolling fields clamor for space, all dwarfing the occasional farm house now buried under several centimeters of snow. The patches of snow at first gave way to the greenish brown of wintry land. But one knows the snow eventually wins: going farther inside Japan’s northernmost island region so near Siberia, away from the sea, there would only be stark whiteness.

From the plane, I expected a nasty freeze to attack every pore of my tropical body. Nothing did. Kitami City, on entry, was sunny, and the snow was crisp and dry, perfect for a snowball fight. After an airport lunch of Japanese curry rice, the trendiest dish in town, we finally went outside to the perfect cold. I stopped to touch for the first time the ubiquitous white, and found that it was what I always thought it would feel like: beautiful but perfectly ordinary ice scrapings from the Big Freezer in the sky. But the beauty of the thing was the shimmering light reflected from everywhere, creating that illusion of snow with a creamy consistency when actually everything is just ice flakes packed tightly together.

Soon my feet were cold, although I longed to strip off my four or five layers of clothing. Still, at -6°C, it was “too warm” for winter—but I liked it that way. I became slightly disappointed, however: where were the shivers? the blue lips? the frozen eyes? the tongue stuck on frosty metallic surfaces? I was an impatient tropical boy. After four o’clock, however, when the sun began to set, a hard and fast coldness started to creep into our consciousness, just enough to make everyone shiver and whisper in such pious observation of weather: “Samui desu ne?”

During that trip to the northern lands, I was to get in touch with the best of Japanese culture—make some glazed china, go skiing in a mountain resort, make a snowman, learn ikebana, go to the onsen or hot spring, make rice cakes, wear a kimono, ride a snow mobile, go to a shrine during the New Year, and do para-sailing. I was staying with the Koras, a Japanese family. Both my vacation okasan (mother) and otosan (father) were veterinarians, and when I could I was supposed to help out in their downstairs clinic. We lived upstairs. They were an extremely kind and generous kazoku. I conversed with them nightly in broken Nihongo. Totemo muzukashii desu ne… But I was not supposed to speak English at all. After every spare Japanese dinner, in typical Nihonjin politeness, I’d say: “Oishikatta desu neu. Onnaka ga ippai desu”—although I was still famished. After TV, which I did not understand, I’d excuse myself to my room, but not before sneaking some dried shrimps from a bowl just lying on the kitchen counter.

I knew I would have a nice fuyu yasumi. I had hoped. The kazoku were Buddhists by practice, and they tried their best to entertain a Filipino boy. But it was also a lonely time: every night in Hokkaido when I went to bed, I told myself beyond the keen understanding that my spirit longed for home: I needed this. I couldn’t always be home. I will have a future in stranger lands lonelier than Japan. Melodrama might have defined my nights there, but my reality eventually demanded sense, or at least an understanding of the deeper things that lie just beyond the province of tears.

It was snowing that last morning of 1997—softly at first, then in a mute frenetic dance that blurred to an icy grayness the surface of the car window. I sat spellbound in my passenger seat, mesmerized by this vision in white. I was, I think, murmuring: “Hajimete, hajimete...” First time. This was much to the amusement of my ojisan. The old man was chuckling, “So desu ka…” as he drove our death-trap of a car around the turns and bends of gravel, asphalt, ice, and snow.

I found myself drawing figures and kanji characters on the frozen window, while Naoki and Nozumi, aged 13 and 9, were fighting over some otamatoshi in the backseat with me. The car radio was blurting out a strange singsong that I could only identify as some furui ongaku. Somehow, it all seemed alien in this Hokkaido landscape—this place could not be Japan! I thought this should be the wilds of some European steppe.

The snowfall fascinated me because, unlike rain, it is soft and stealthy. It does not announce itself like the dropping pellets of rain; it just sneaks over everything, like a thief of time. For example, the view from the car window, when a moment ago was blue and green was soon transformed into a whiteness you could feel. The whiteness stretched on and on, soon blurring the distinction between land and sky.

And on and on, ojisan drove. The drive seemed to take forever. And there was only silence and snow.

When we arrived at the onsen, I thought quickly that it was most interesting. The winding mountain path led us to this perfect hot spring getway—a common bath of a beguiling rusticity. Soon I quickly find out that everybody went naked together, but I didn’t care, and it was not embarrassing. You won’t have time to mind your own fragile nudity once you step into the boiling water. I remember I loved that hot bath with its fiery 40°C heat. My skin felt tight and supple. I felt reborn.

Ojisan turned to me, and naked and in Japanese, he said, “I know a woman from your country. She is married to a farmer I know. I’ll take you to see her before you leave for Tokyo.”

In Engaru, a town an hour away from the bright city lights of Kitami, I met her. She was a hapless Waray named Divina who was married to mono-syllabic Japanese cow-farmer. I thought quickly that she was probably your typical mail-order bride—a country girl, ignorant, but hard-working, full of hopeful ambition. She had been living in Engaru for nine years, and she told me that she was happy.

“My husband is good,” she declared to me, after offering me a plate of pancit, which I swiftly gobbled up. But she also told me horror stories of other Filipinas in the area who kept running away from abusive husbands, who are married to Yakusza mobsters, who work as Japayukis to what she quaintly referred to as bodabil. It was the first time I saw such a thing. I’ve heard about these things most definitely—about OCWs, about penpal girls, about exotic dancer, but they didn’t seem exactly real to me. Until then.

Soon, she had both of us clad in stained overalls and in protective gloves. “I want to show you where I work,” she said. And we stepped out into the snow again and into a dingy place that smelled quite bad. Divina showed me where she worked morning, noon, and night: in a cow barn that smelled of dung, littered with hay and refuse and treated corn. It was an automated cow farm—there were sucking machines milking the cows instead of old-fashioned human hands. But for an hour, I saw her go about her work, I listened to her broken Tagalog and her familiar Cebuano. She told me she just finished the construction of her family house in Samar, and now she was about to send money to purchase the “Frigidaire” and the washing machine her sister was demanding. I looked at her house and saw something very typical for a Japanese small town: a miserable , tiny structure barely consisting of three rooms, warmed only by an old stove placed in the middle of a cluttered living room. This and her dirty barns, and her cow shit, and her eternal snow. I asked her, “Did you expect this life here in Japan?” She smiled and said, “No.” But she had come. She worked hard. She was resilient.

Later that week, we—my kazoku and I—went to a temple for the New Year, in a tradition the Japanese called Hatsumode, and there I offered my prayers and my wishes to the gods.

Back in Tokyo, the metropolis was suddenly deluged by thick and unexpected January snow. So thick and so fast that in less than an hour, it covered everything. It was supposed to be the heaviest snowfall in the metropolis in four years. Everywhere, there was a blanket of whiteness that dazzled. But nightfall, it was almost a disaster, but a merry one. Snowmen and igloos were popping out by the scores, all made by eager student hands in my Tokyo university. Elsewhere else, trouble and chaos reigned. Tokyo is a huge maze of a city and imagination alone cannot surpass its monstrous size or complexity. To get from one side to the next would take hours of endless train rides. Trains crisscross the metropolis like blood veins: they are the sole means of transportation by millions of Tokyoites. In Shinkjuku station alone, about 4 million people change trains every day. Trains in Tokyo have never been an image of comfort. In a regular rush hour, they’re hell on earth, with everybody practically canned inside like sardines.

Now imagine thick snow blocking the railways during rush hour in the evening. Electricity is soon cut off. The trains stop between stations, in the middle of nowhere. The door won’t open. The people inside cannot get out. The people in the stations cannot get in, nor get a ride. Working men and women, high school and elementary school students—everybody cannot go home or even go eat. Everyone is trapped. That is, until 6 or 7 the next morning. It was really funny listening to the “adventures” of people in call-in radio stations the following morning. The first world and its problems…

Much later, I suddenly felt I could do anything. That I could be anybody I wanted to be. Maybe this was my gift to myself in choosing to come here: to have that newfound sense of self long buried by the static of Dumaguete life. Perhaps I found myself by leaving home.

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Friday, June 25, 2010

entry arrow3:05 PM | This Weekend in Culture in Dumaguete : The Philippine Opera Company in 'Harana'

The Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee presents the Philippine Opera Company in Harana. June 25 and 26 at 8 PM. Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium, Dumaguete City.

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Sunday, June 20, 2010

entry arrow5:30 PM | How It Ends

Somewhere around the bend was the end of the road. He knew. Soon it would be morning and already he could see a cast of faint light breaking through the night sky, through the clouds. There will soon be light on that horizon, he thought. But Tañon Strait itself was still dark. The far-off islands -- Cebu, Siquijor, Bohol -- were still in shadows. Only the whole Escaño stretch seemed alive with people on the last gasp of rhum-flavored stupor. They slurred, they sang and danced to dying music.

He walked on, and behind him the haphazard late night music, blaring for what seemed like endlessness, faded away as distance grew.

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entry arrow3:44 PM | First Memory

By Louise Glück

Long ago, I was wounded. I lived
to revenge myself
against my father, not
for what he was—
for what I was: from the beginning of time,
in childhood, I thought
that pain meant
I was not loved.
It meant I loved.

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Friday, June 18, 2010

entry arrow11:23 PM | Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee Launches Its 48th Cultural Season with Philippine Opera Company's 'Harana'

The Silliman University Cultural Affairs Committee presents the Philippine Opera Company in Harana, which will be performed in the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium on June 25 as part of the launch of the cultural season, and on June 26 for regular patronage.

The June 25 launch, which will start at 5:30 PM at the auditorium foyer, will also feature a screening of Carmen Singson del Prado's documentary Dumaguete: An Artists' Haven. The performance by the Philippine Opera Company will start at 8 PM.

The POC show features the country’s highly celebrated singers Ana Feleo, Karla Patricia Gutierrez, Ma. Florence Aguilar-Barquez, Arlynne Lupas-Tecson, Jennifer Villegas, Sherwin Sozon, Glenn Gaerlan and Nazer Salcedo. This comes after Harana’s first Visayan tour last May as part of the National Heritage Festival celebration.

When POC launched the show in 2008, it reaped good notices from audiences and critics. Julie Yap-Daza in Manila Bulletin, wrote: “How long have we waited for such an endearing piece of artful, delightful entertainment.”

Harana refers to the traditional form of courtship where a man woos a woman’s affection by singing underneath her window. In the 1920s, the harana or kundiman became a mainstream musical style, with many popular performers including Diomedes Maturan and Ruben Tagalog performing it. A celebration of this musical tradition comes in a time when the country is rapidly losing an appreciation of Filipino music to foreign influences. Many people are no longer interested in listening to Filipino classics, composed by gifted Filipino geniuses.

Philippine Opera Company’s cultural repertoire showcases the evolution of Philippine music through song, movement and drama. The show consists of six suites—the Igorot, Maria Clara, Rural, Folk, Muslim, and the Contemporary—each theatrically presented with authenticity and visual excitement. The creation of each suite is a product of thorough research, with the commitment to preserve indigenous music, dance and folklore. POC’s skill is evident as it restructures and enhances this research to evolve into a show of great appeal to theater. Contemporary audiences will find the performance an absolute feast to the senses.

Repertoire for the tour includes timeless classics such as “Bituing Marikit,” “Dahil Sa Isang Bulaklak,” “Iyo Kailan Pa Man,” “Kalesa,” “Ang Maya,” “Ano Kaya Ang Kapalaran,” “Dumbele,” “Ay Salidumay,” “Waray-Waray,” “Sa Kabukiran,” “Manang Biday,” “Atin Cu Pung Singsing,” “Pobreng Alindahaw,” “Saan Ka Man Naroroon,” “Gaano Ko Ikaw Kamahal,” “Usahay” and “Hindi Kita Malimot.”

Future shows from the CAC include Silly People’s Improv Theater Live in Dumaguete, the Ryan Cayabyab Singers in Concert, the Philippine Madrigal Singers in Concert, Douglas Nierras’ Powerdance in Aerial Suite, Coke Bolipata and the Pundaquit Virtuosi in Concert, the Celso Espejo Rondalla in Concert, the La Libertad Children’s Rondalla in Concert, Children’s Letters to God, and Silliman Performs with the Kayahag Dance Troupe in a Lucy Jumawan Dance Tribute. Other events include the Active Vista Film Festival and Armando Lao’s Found Story Screenwriting Workshop.

For inquiries, call 422-6002 loc. 520 or 0917-323-5953.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

entry arrow11:16 PM | You Are So Beautiful.

"It is finitude that makes beauty possible. I guess the beloved is beautiful precisely because he cannot be possessed, or because he can easily be lost."
J. Neil C. Garcia

All I know is that, in the end, the world is beautiful. Even the pain that this familiar hollowness brings. In the brief and quiet moment when I reflect on what has happened, I tell myself that I may have become the virtuoso of such terrible forms of beauty. Now I see through my window an evening sheathed in the music of crickets and the occasional noise of distant tricycles, while nearby the wafting odors of a dinner being prepared next door beckon like a temptation. Nothing else stirs, and my senses shift. So I tell myself to breathe deep, and I take in the music, the sounds of quieting traffic, the tantalizing memories of a thousand heartfelt meals -- and the sudden unbearable knowledge that I have said goodbye. It feels absolute, the finality of things.

I hope you will remember that I had caressed your face tonight. I hope you will remember that I had touched your lips lightly with mine, all rushing desire kept still by the knowledge that restraint is so much more lovely. I hope you will remember that I had softly kissed each of your eye as I went about the task to commit to memory the geography of you.

“You are so beautiful,” I told you softly, just enough so that you could hear me without disturbing the quiet that enveloped us.

And then between that and the last goodbye at the gate which would you lead you to a path that will separate, with the decisiveness of the stars, you and me, I will remember nothing else. Nothing except that sadness in your eyes and the lilt in your mouth and the loving way the darkness of the encroaching evening embraced you.

You are so beautiful.

Memories were invented to keep you.

[photo courtesy of another country]

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Saturday, June 12, 2010

entry arrow11:08 PM | Crush

Words are such traitors. You must notice that when I’m in front of you, they carelessly abandon me, and I can speak only in spaces and strange sounds that pass for "hello" or "nice meeting you."

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entry arrow7:11 PM | According to Myth, Our World is Just a Rat's Excreta

I have always loved this creation story from Bohol, culled from Fr. Francisco Demetrio's "Creation Myths Among The Early Filipinos" in theAsian Folklore Studies:

In the beginning there was only darkness. Then the heavens covered the earth so that the two together looked like an immense tabo or coconut-shell bowl. Within the bowl a rat was born. It graduaIIy grew in size until it transformed itself into the giant Angngalo, the Bisayan Atlas who carried the heavens on his shoulders. One day, he eased himself, and from his feces and urine were born the islands, lakes and rivers, of the Archipelago. God who saw him thus occupied gave him a kick which sent him to China by way of Mariveles.

I don't know why knowing that we all live in divine excreta fascinates me.

[more here]


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entry arrow4:54 PM | A Lesson in Dreaming

I've been told so many times in my life by people who are supposed to love me that I am a disappointment because I would not compromise, just because I insist on following my dreams, just because I would not be a nurse or one of those God-forsaken career moves where I become a zombie for a quick buck. The thing is, there are two things I know: (1) I cannot be hurried for your sake, because everything has its place in the universe, and (2) I'm just a little too young to follow your recipe for unhappiness which you mistakenly call responsibility. Your words hurt me, and I'm scared for you -- because when my dreams come true, I don't want you to fade into that part of my world where all things that don't matter stay held by the darkness where they can't touch me.


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Friday, June 11, 2010

entry arrow6:57 PM | The Best Filipino Films? Here Are Thirteen. (But Don't Crucify Me Too Much!)

[With some modifications to the spot.ph article]

All best-of lists are dangerous. They are invitations for condemnation.

But we love them because they fulfill our hankering for order in the glut of things. We love them because they provide a measure, even if a crude one, for our taste. And we love them because they are a concentrated form of validation (“Of course that should be in this list!”) and drama (“How dare he include this and not that? Who does he think he is?”).

Such an endeavor is a trap of sorts—and yet how joyfully we jump into a chance to do so. When I was a kid, I compiled notebooks of movies I have seen, giving them the appropriate number of stars out of five to measure whether they were “great” or "not great"—greatness simply being the capacity of a film to move a 12-year-old. (Steven Spielberg's E.T. was only four stars.) Many years later, the notebooks may have gone, but the innate human tendency to measure something quite relative remains. But in many ways, it is tempered by a very adult realization: first, that one has not sadly seen everything, and second, that what is trash for one cineaste is the glimmer of genius for another. Take for example the esteemed film critic Roger Ebert and his putdown of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner and David Lynch’s Blue Velvet. When he calls the last one an atrocity, we shake our heads and tell ourselves, “The guy does not get it.”

Of course, there will always be someone who will soon decry that something else very important is missing. But like all good people tasked to write essays like this, we all know the drill. Lists such as this are more often a reflection of a very personal taste. They are also an avenue for critics to champion something, highlighting an obscure title that usually is not given the chance to move out of the shadows of the firmly canonical. (Lino Brocka! Ishmael Bernal! Eddie Romero! Gerardo de Leon! Manuel Conde! Lamberto Javellana!) At best, they are something that can spark an impassioned debate among film buffs.

I have not seen all Filipino films, but I have seen my fair share of what are considered the best of what local cinema can offer. (Sad to say, a great percentage of our cinematic heritage—those prints that came before the 1960s—has been lost to posterity simply because we didn’t know we should care for them.) In coming up with this list, I arrived at a haphazard criteria—that I will only select something that I have actually watched, and that something must have been able to engage me in a deeper way than most films I have seen. And because there is a sheer number of brilliant Filipino films, I am pegging my number at lucky 13—simply because ten is boring and usual, and fifteen may just be a little too much.

But first I got some help. Because I remember Cinemalaya’s Ed Cabagnot once telling me that he considers Romero’s Ganito Kami Noon Paano Kayo Ngayon as probably one of the best Filipino films ever made—simply because it tasked itself to answer the question: who or what is a Filipino? I wondered what other critics had to say about what is the best, and so I cornered a few of the country’s top film critics and asked them for their two cents’ worth. If they could add at least two titles to a list such as this, what would those two titles be? I told them it didn’t have to be a conventional choice—“You can select a Star Cinema movie, for all I care,” I said—but it had to be something springing from the personal.

Mike Cruz of the popular film blog Lessons From the School of Inattention, goes straight to his choices: “Lav Diaz’s Batang West Side and Raya Martin’s Independencia. But if there’s one which I think is ripe for rediscovery, it would be Joey Gosiengfiao’s Bedspacers.”

The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Rito Asilo agonized over it: “This is a hard decision. But while there are countless brilliant indies out there, there’s a general feel of relentless grimness and collective myopia. I call them hara-kiri movies, in which all hope is lost. But I choose Magnifico. Despite its tragic finale, Maryo J. de los Reyes’ stirring 2003 drama nonetheless leaves strands of hope for the viewers. In a grim world overwhelmed by cynicism and rancor, the movie reminds us that kindness begets kindness. There’s still hope for all of us, after all.”

UNO’s Luis Katigbak said that a few titles came to mind: “There’s Luis Quirino’s short film Pasakalye, a darkly humorous little road trip of a film, which pulls off the neat trick of having you laugh with mild contempt at a pair of characters who you then find yourself rooting for—and even being touched by—at the end. There’s Quark Henares’ Keka, which I love for the sheer irreverent fun it offers: dance number, death scenes and all. There’s Aureaus Solito’s Pisay, widely considered to not be his best film (that’s probably Maximo), but which I love for reasons nostalgic and sentimental and literary, being, respectively, a Pisay graduate, a sap, and a writer who admires the challenges of the structure of the movie (four years, four-plus story-threads, characters weaving in and out). None of these films is particularly Important. They may not even be particularly good, when all is said and done. But hey, you wanted unusual and personal. I also have a soft spot for Mike de Leon’s Itim, though I suspect that may be more due to the charms of a young Charo Santos than de Leon’s atmospheric, eerie mastery.”

Businessworld’s Noel Vera raves on two films: “Mario O’Hara’s Kastilyong Buhangin stars Nora Aunor and Lito Lapid as a vehicle for both. I can only describe it as a cross between George Cukor’s A Star is Born and Ringo Lam’s Prison on Fire. The finale is an action sequence worth watching. Then there’s Bakit Bughaw ang Langit. Briefly put, it’s Mario O’Hara encroaching on Lino Brocka territory, on neorealist melodrama. I think his take on it is quieter, more intense. I might add that along with Celso Ad. Castillo and Gerardo de Leon, O’Hara is the finest action director we have (Brocka, Bernal, even De Leon have nothing on him). You see a bit of that action filmmaking in Kastilyong Buhangin.”

Which proves my point: the untidy richness of lists lies in the fact that, collating opinions from the film-struck, no one really agrees with another. And that is something to cherish.

In the end, I had to come up with my list—knowing full well my own criteria, and knowing that I wanted to touch on things not usually considered for lists like this, and that included a survey of all genres, as well as a consideration of short films, documentaries, animated films, independent films you don’t often see in the cineplex, and even the unabashedly commercial. And so here we go with my own take, whether I “get it or not.”

13. Trip

Directed by Juan Pula [Jon Red] for Mowelfund, 1993

A boy goes to the city for the first time on board a jeepney, and gets a lesson about the nation that he more than bargains for. That is the basic plot of this short film, but that is not the point. The point is the jeepney as a metaphor for Filipino society. Of course, such things have been done to death—but in this film by Jon Red, signing in as Juan Pula for the project, it becomes an inventive and freshly satirical take on all our collective idiosyncrasies and what-not. This short film came during a brief wave of fantastic filmmaking by the likes of Avic Ilagan (Ang Babae Kapag Nag-iisa sa Manila) and Fruto Corre (Laho), a generation of independent filmmakers who really should direct again.

12. Kimmy Dora

Directed by Joyce Bernal for Spring Films, 2009

I wanted to put in a comedy. Seriously. But Dolphy’s cinematic triumphs—even if iconic in recollection—seem to be totally of a different world now, and scouring the filmmography of Tito, Vic, and Joey leaves us with nothing more than a memory of tired slapstick. Of course, there are a few gems in Joey de Leon’s mix bag of Barbie and Starzan—but I didn’t want to go there. I’ve considered vehicles for Ai-Ai de las Alas and other comedy stars—but could not find anything that not only tickled my funny bone but also my intellect. Soxy Topacio’s brilliant Ded na si Lolo (2009) came close, but it seemed a little too unpolished, although it may well be the best comic rendition of a Filipino family yet. Bernal’s Kimmy Dora—a tale of twins, one scheming and one simple, whose lives suddenly becomes a drama of mistaken identities—seems the best bet. Eugene Domingo’s characterization of the twins is spot-on. And the film is wickedly funny, and incredibly witty—and above all, we’ve already memorized the lines. Talk about an instant classic.

11. Himala

Directed by Ishmael Bernal for Regal Films, 1982

Personally, I prefer the city stories of Bernal in Manila By Night, Relasyon, Broken Marriage, and Working Girls. He had this uncanny ability to capture the lightning truthfulness of contemporary living in the proverbial bottle—but one has to consider the visual poetry and the cinematic bravado that come into play in Himala, his story of a young girl in the province (played with such acclaim by Nora Aunor) suddenly possessed by unearthly visions—and becomes the necessary target for religious devotees, the dispossessed, the opportunists, and the vicious. In other words, the very picture of Filipino society in the grips of a circus.

[Read the rest of the list here]

Art by Warren Espejo and movie posters from Video 48. Special thanks to Gibbs Cadiz, Rolando Tolentino, Luis Katigbak, Rito Asilo, Mike Cruz, and Noel Vera for the help.


[2] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

entry arrow6:42 AM | Midwestern Sunset

I can't wait to see this sunset very soon. I've been hoping for this. God knows how much I need this chance to get away from it all. And write that book.

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[1] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich

Thursday, June 10, 2010

entry arrow6:51 PM | Gotta Love the Haters

Years ago, in college, I was told by some people I was not and could never be a writer. [The exact circumstances were this: a bunch of campus writers were decamping for another university, and the general sentiment was this: "What happens now? Sino na lang ang matitirang writer sa Sillman University?" When somebody came up with my name, the idea was poo-pooh'd. "Ian? A writer?" And they all laughed.] Of course it pissed me off. So off I went to write a short story. Which won me my first Palanca. So you see, you gotta love haters. Because they push you to do even better than you thought you could. Story of my life.

I write this now, knowing there are those who think that my getting into Iowa is a fluke. Something to poo-pooh. I don't mind. It's just the nature of the game. Plus you can always slap them with your next book.

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[1] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich