GRAVE OF THE FIREFLIES (Isao Takahata, 1988)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Grave of the Fireflies:

1. If I remember it correctly, I discovered this emotionally devastating animated film (in my opinion, still the best one) upon the recommendation of my suking pirated DVD vendor in Makati Cinema Square (“Piracy is stealing. Stealing is against the law. Piracy is a crime.”). I was looking for a copy of the latest Hollywood flick that time when she suggested several Studio Ghibli films (Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Kiki’s Delivery Service among them).

I initially had doubts because I had outgrown cartoons ever since Princess Sarah Crewes got reunited with her father and banished Miss Minchin to her rightful place: the chimeneya. In my mind, animated films would usually be kiddie stuff and although some were really good (especially the classic Disney films), their themes would still cater to a younger crowd. I didn’t expect that this masterpiece would be my introduction to the wonderful world of anime.

2. More than being the best animated film, I completely agree with the late Roger Ebert that this could stand as one of the finest war films as well. From its opening scene where a young boy named Seita wearing a soldier’s uniform and looking directly at the camera said the chilling line “September 21, 1945. That was the night I died”, it would just be an endless sequence of heartbreaking moments that blatantly demonstrated the destructive nature of war and its debilitating effects on people. I might not have lived through World War II but those air raid warning sounds would haunt me forever.

I also found it smart that the film started with the reveal that both Seita and younger sister Setsuko were already dead and reunited in the afterlife. Every scene that came after that with them having fun just felt incredibly bittersweet especially knowing their tragic end.

3. I really liked how Setsuko was initially oblivious to the horrors happening around her. She was contented with piggybacking on her older brother, or running around in the ricefields, or frolicking on the beach while bombs destroyed their village and killed hundreds of people, including their own mother.

My favorite scenes here involved her constant discovery of the sad realities around her. While trying to catch a crab, she chanced upon a rotting person on the beach and it was her first encounter with death. When the fireflies they caught died the next day, she dug a grave for them because it was supposedly what happened to their dead mother as well (as told to her by their maldita auntie). This particular scene crushed my heart because it was juxtaposed with the actual scene of her mother’s body being burned in a mass grave, dead bodies in a heap left without any dignity.

4. Speaking of the maldita auntie, I swear my blood curdled when she only offered sabaw to the kids while her husband and daughter got generous servings of rice and potatoes. They sold their dead mother’s precious keepsake kimonos to buy the freakin’ food, you bitch!! I wanted to thwack her so hard with that soup bowl. (And then they inserted a short scene with a mother bird feeding her baby birds in a nest huhuhu!)

5. Some people would probably find this emotionally manipulative if one would only see children subjected to endless suffering (those rashes on Setsuko’s back!), but I found it incredibly authentic. Sure, I bawled my eyes out when she sucked on the marbles and made rice balls out of soil because of lack of food, and I crawled into my usual fetal position and sobbed like a mad man at the sight of her dead body hugging her favorite doll while inside a rattan casket, but these probably happened to some people during that time (or even worse).

6. I would never look at a fruit drops tin can the same way ever again. (Side note: I use the exact same hack of filling a ketchup or shampoo bottle with water to get the remaining stuff out of it.)

7. “Why do fireflies have to die so soon?” Hay. Really powerful stuff.

Rest in peace, Sir Isao Takahata.

Rating: ★★★★★

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FANGIRL/FANBOY (Barry Gonzalez, 2017)

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SPOILER ALERT!!

My notes on Fangirl/Fanboy:

1. In one scene, a supposedly talented dubber Aimee (Ella Cruz) was not allowed to enter the studio because she forgot her company ID. To prove that she actually worked there (as a “Dubberkads”, wenk wenk), she mimicked the voices of her famous characters such as Shan Cai of Meteor Garden and Princess Sarah of Patatas Kingdom. The problem though was that she didn’t sound anywhere close to them and it was very much like Ella Cruz doing terrible impersonations that would make Miss Minchin furious.

Even worse, when she dubbed the lines for her Korean robot character Sandy/Android 5000 (Yam Concepcion), it seemed that they used another person’s voice in lieu of Ella’s. So we had a Koreanovela character dubbed by a dubber character who was also dubbed by another real person? Confused yet? Was this supposed to be the Inception of dubbing?

2. Even with a half-decent story, it was just hard to buy the romance between Aimee and Ollie (Julian Trono) because the leads had zero chemistry. There were instances when it felt like I was watching siblings flirt with each other and it just made me squirm in my seat.

Maybe it was because Ella still looked like a kid (Aryana feels!) so it was weird seeing her sexualized by wearing a French maid costume (why did she even own one in the first place?). It was like a scene straight out of Toddlers and Tiaras.

There was also something off with Julian and his slo-mo pa-cute scenes that reminded me of Michael Jackson in Moonwalker.

When the two were having fun running around a fountain (drone shots galore!), it was the same kind of happiness I saw between Jocelyn and Jervy in Mga Batang Yagit. Now where was Xian Gaza when you actually needed him?

3. Aimee’s mom (a sublime Yayo Aguila): “Anong nangyayari sa’yo?”

Aimee (kinikilig): “Ay, wala po. May ipis kasi.”

Aimee’s mom: “Ipis?! Nasaan?!”

Aimee: “Ay, ayun po. Lumipad palabas. Feeling butterfly eh.”

Wenk, wenk, wenk.

4. Given their huge height difference, how did Aimee end up kissing Ollie on the lips when she got hit by that fire exit door? Napatalon ang mga labi sa takot? Para-paraan? Hokage moves? (Yung totoo. Sa Adam’s apple ni Ollie sya dapat nasalubsob.)

5. I felt bad that Aimee was given a gay bff (trope) that proved useless to her. When they were having a discussion regarding that unfortunate (?) kiss, she asked his advice if it actually meant something and his response was, “Wala nang panget ngayon. Marami na lang tamad mag-ayos.” Huh?! Whatever happened to a gay character being the voice of reason in rom-coms? You were supposed to be her friend, not her pimp. Bakla ka ng taon!

6. I liked how the movie touched on the Koreanovela craze and the local industry’s expectations on love teams. I wish they could have done more than just provide basic observations. Also, why were they already shooting a local remake of that Program to Love show when the original was still being shown?

7. I wouldn’t want to work in that studio that seemed to receive bomb threats every week. Hindi sapat ang HMO para sa stress at near-death stampede experience.

8. As always, Shy Carlos (as bitchy diva Cheska) was the highlight of the movie. Along with her entourage (personal assistant Donnalyn Bartolome and twin set of alalays), she effectively wreaked havoc over everything that stood in her path (literally and figuratively). I laughed so hard when she delivered the line, “Aminin mo nga sa kin. Girlfriend mo ba ‘tong jej fangirl na ‘to?” Seriously, we need her in all Viva movies.

9. Librarian to Aimee after the latter misplaced a History book: “Kelan pa naging fiction ang History?”

Aimee: “Kapag ‘di mo na alam ang guni guni sa katotohanan.”

Ehrm. I was more troubled that Aimee ruined the Dewey Decimal System.

10. So Aimee suffered a mild heart attack after Ollie acted all Judas Iscariot and denied (three times?) that she was his girlfriend. But then Ollie retaliated against Cheska and blamed her for everything. His final, profound words: “Not everyone revolves around you and your heng-eps.” Huehuehuehue!!

Rating: ★☆☆☆☆