Thursday, August 25, 2011

A Probinsiyano's Journey Through Hell (Maynila: Sa mga Kuko ng Liwanag)

Rarely have I ever been completely mesmerized by local Philippine movies, not that I'm saying the local movie scene sucks, but for three main reasons: One, I rarely watch local movies. Two, and perhaps the reason for the first argument, they rarely make real masterpieces and if they ever do, its usually on the hush-hush, and three because of this movie., Maynila: Sa Mga Kuko ng Liwanag, which truly sets the bar really high, as expected no less from its director, the late, great Lino Brocka, one of the greatest Filipino filmmakers of all time and of the film itself that claims to be the greatest Philippine movie ever made.

The film is about a "probinsyano" (people from the provinces or somewhere outside the big city), Julio Madiaga as played by the young Bembol Roco (before known as Rafael Roco Jr.) who went to the big city of Manila to search for his lost love, Ligaya Paraiso (played by Hilda Koronel, the character name Ligaya Paraiso literally translates to "Joyful Paradise") who was tricked and taken to Manila by a certain shady old woman named Mrs. Cruz, who came to their province and promised Ligaya and several other women a better life in the big city if they came with her. Out of worry for his lover who hasn't wrote back to her family for months, Julio decided to brave the odds and search for Ligaya despite having no clues of her whereabouts. Little did he know his adventure would take him farther and deeper than he expects into the dark maw of the city's scum. Crime, poverty, injustice are to name a general few but to get keep getting victimized by it is a different story. After all of the city's hostility, will Julio be able to keep his sanity intact until he finds Ligaya? And when he finds Ligaya, will he be able to bring her back and live happily ever after? Or will it be a shock of reality that would land the final blow, turning the kind and meek Julio into a monster of vengeance.

Julio Madiaga, played by Bembol Roco, frequents and stands like a creepy stalker at the corner of Ongpin and Misericordia street, in front of a Chinese merchandise store in which he believes, Ligaya, his missing lover is kept hidden. Imprisoned probably. But honestly, it was a big surprise to see Bembol Roco this young, and with this much hair.

Julio joins a construction company - the easiest job to get into since he has no proper education whatsoever, in order to sustain himself in he big city while he looks for Ligaya. Also his first taste of the city's bigtime injustice. He's supposed to earn 4 pesos a day while the corrupted and cheapskate of a foreman only gives him 2.50, no questions asked. Another surprise for me is the regular wage back in 1975. When I was a kid (around early 90's) 2.50 would only take you a jeepney ride no farther than 4 kilometers, and today, that much earns me only what, two sticks of gum? Amazing how the economy turned out far worse 36 years later. And amazing that that is Joonee Gamboa on the right.

Julio's lost lover, Ligaya Paraiso as played by Hilda Koronel. Ligaya was duped into being given a chance to get educated and live a better life in the big city by Mrs. Cruz (whom Julio described as fat and ugly, like a pig), a shady person who came to their province and promised several other women the same thing. Nowadays, its still the same thing. Illegal recruiters all around, taking advantage of poor citizens' lack of education and awareness, involving them with shady dealings and such. That aside, it never fails to astound me the beauty of women in classic films. Seems they have something in common, I just can't put a finger on it, that puts them a notch above today's pretty faces in show business.

Julio and his buddy, Atong, went to a local market to shop for clothing. I was totally blown away by the price of the buttoned shirt they went for at 9 pesos. And even haggled it down to a price of 6.80 because they thought the cloth was a bit flimsy (these days, the flimsier the cloth, all the more pricey). Nowadays, stuff like that would cost from 300 to more than a thousand pesos depending on the brand and make - a huge evident economic difference from 36 years ago. Today, 9 pesos would only earn you one serving of cooked rice that isn't even enough to hit the bottom.

A scenery from before that still is, and more evident than ever. A distressing slum area, or in more local terms, "squatters area". Usually formed by informal settlers who are mostly composed of probinsiyanos like Julio who ventured to the big city to try their luck at a better chance of moving up in life. Unfortunately, most of them end up stuck in slums like these. In the movie, The squatters area was second home to Julio as he was welcomed to stay there by his friend Atong who lived in one.

Just like the tagline on this show's theatrical poster:

"Sa bawat latay, kahit aso'y nag-iiba.
Sa unang latay siya'y magtataka.
Sa ikalawa siya'y mag-iisip.
Sa ikatlo siya'y magtatanda.
Sa ikaapat, humanda ka!"

Which literally translates to: "For every lash of the whip, even a dog changes thought. Lash him once and he'll start wondering. Lash him twice and he'll start thinking. Lash him thrice and he'll remember it. Lash him for the fourth time, you'd best be prepared!". Julio like the stray dog who unwittingly entered hell, through the vicissitudes of living around and getting victimized by scum, slowly evolves, turning himself into something that scared even himself. The movie, aside from being a perfect mirror of the sad realities of the impoverished sector in the Philippines (perhaps evident in other countries as well), also serves as a dire example on the downfall of man, that even the most meek of humans, once pushed far enough, can and will do the unthinkable.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Chasing Love in the City of God (Michiko to Hatchin)

After seeing and being enthralled with its uniquely music-themed, action-packed, and with an awesome story to boot series of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, I found myself craving and sought for more of Shinichiro Watanabe's work. In doing so, I've come across a couple of great and memorable shows he's had a hand in producing (e.g. Eureka Seven, Ergo Proxy and Escaflowne). Although he only has a handful of shows in which he directed and a bunch of others where mostly he is in charge of storyboard, the two aforementioned shows totally stand out from the rest which sets the bar really high for his work for me. Then I stumbled upon a certain anime image of  Michiko to Hatchin with a gun-toting, brown hottie of a woman with a teasing look, riding a scooter with a seemingly timid blondie kid. What an ironic pair. Seeing the show is produced by Manglobe, the same guys who produced Ergo Proxy and Samurai Champloo and with Mr. Watanabe in charge of the music. For sure I knew, I was in for a treat and boy did Michiko to Hatchin blew me away.

A bronze hottie riding a monster scooter casually jumps through your window and lands on your dining table in the middle of breakfast. Just how badass can this show get?

Set in a fictional country very similar to Brazil, Michiko to Hatchin is the story of a somewhat unlikely mother-and-daughter pair set out to find a certain man who is supposed to be the daughter's lost father. Michiko Malandro, an ex-gangster and a prison escapee who braved the odds, escaping a supposedly inescapable prison facility to search for important people, one f them being Hana Morenos, whom she claims to be her daughter. A few days after her escape she finds Hana under the wing of an abusive foster family whose purpose of having an orphan like her under their roof is to take her government-funded child support for their own. She takes the unwilling yet left with little choice Hana and runs again with more cops in pursuit. The two then set out in a dangerous adventure in search of Hana's father, Hiroshi Morenos, who is also Michiko's ex-lover. Despite being polar opposites, which results in both of them often bickering at each other, beset with obstacles and danger as they travel - rampant poverty, dodging cops and dealing with felonious individuals and gangs, the two eventually warmed up to each other as they held on to their promise of protecting the other no matter what and see their treacherous journey to the end.

Michiko Malandro, the story's heroine, escapes a supposedly inescapable isolated prison facility through wit and sheer badassery, taking down a couple of guys and a police chopper in the process.

Michiko broke out of prison to search for two important people. Holding an artist's sketch of Hiroshi Morenos, her ex-lover, on her left and her own rendition of Hana/Hatchin, who she claims to be her daughter, on her right, Michiko asks people around if they've seen people who looked like such. Despite being a quick-witted escapee, a real badass and real hot stuff, how her hand works with ink and paper is just so funny. 

An orphan since birth and raised by an abusive family, The young and gentle Hana Morenos has braved living a tough life yet deep in her heart, she always wished for someone to come down from that dusty road, pick her up and take her away from her misery. Then, though it wasn't what she was expecting, along came Michiko who claims to be her mother.

 Drama aside, this show also has its plus points for comedy. This episode in particular probably has the most comedy in my opinion, Hana got drunk, surprisingly, on orange juice and the way she acted was really strange. Yes, she does look like a little boy but to top it off with acting like a macho guy and hitting on a chick? Classic.

What made this show even more amazing is the action-packed yet brimming with emotions story. Michiko is constantly on the run from cops all the while dodging bullets and keeping her promise to Hana to protect her no matter what until they find her long lost father and Michiko's long-lost lover, Hiroshi.

Having the hots for tall women with afro hairdo characters, Atsuko Jackson is easily my favorite. Being Michiko's old childhood buddy and partner-in-crime, she unexpectedly became her worst rival as she later grew up to become a police officer, constantly obsessed with hunting down Michiko. Must be an old beef she just has to settle with her.

Looks like the settling of business started earlier than expected. Michiko got cornered by cops, as planned by Atsuko. Not minding being on gunpoint and surrounded by cops, she became blind with rage and grabbed Atsuko by the collar as she insulted her by digging up skeletons of their past. Hmm, I think I know what's running in those guys heads. Catfight!

Like what the title mentions, this show has a striking resemblance to the acclaimed movie City of God with the plot setting, although in this one it happens on a fictional Brazil-like country, in a similar favela district setting. There's also the gangs of violent kids evident in the movie and even in this one, they're still rowdy as ever.

Of course, with the show revolving a lot around gangsters and such, and with similar plot elements found in City of God, I can't just recommend this to younger viewers (also they might not fully understand the greatness of shows like this just yet) and those who aren't used to much violence. Although, the action, gunfights and wild chases, I must say is one of the strongest points of this show.

 But still, the best part about it for me still, is the drama. Michiko hugs Hana as she fell on her knees, crying after her first experience of love and heartbreak. The show deals with the different situations the dysfunctional yet faithful mother and daughter pair as they go the difficulties of love, trust, relationships and living a dangerous life, being constantly on the run.

Being the first in the Josei genre of anime that I've seen, It was quite a new experience. Unlike Shoujo manga/anime, which is of the least possibility that I would go see one, the romance depicted on Josei is definitely more mature and more realistic (even the sad ironies of love and relationships) in which, in my standards, the genre truly succeeds where Shoujo fails. Another noticeable trait in the show (I don't know about other Josei titles if this is evident) is the characters seem to be quite keen on fashion that you rarely see them wear the same stuff on every episode. Not to mention that the stuff they wore seems to have been given a lot of thought too. Unfortunately though, my fave Atsuko Jackson, whose physique comes closest to a real supermodel, (although she lacks quite a lot in the chest department, but what the hell, most fashion models do right?) has to stick most of the time with uniforms.

Having the perfect mix of blood-boiling action, a mature view of romance and relationships (right, I really have to mention mature) and heartwarming drama plus the amazing story, watching Michiko to Hatchin came close to me as watching an awesome action film. And the fact that the show had quite the resemblance to one of my all-time favorites, City of God, easily made it one of the best anime series I've ever watched. I'd recommend this one for those looking for anime with deep substance without losing the excitement and/or those who are tired of the shoujo genre's intended type of mushy romance.

From The Idiot Box

From the screen to your lenses to your brain to your nerves to your heart, lungs and muscles and out. Its a compilation of my take, thoughts and impressions on straight up, good stuff (mostly japanese, anime, music and geek-related) from the idiot box that I like and you might like.

... and idiocy. :)

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