Thursday, September 11, 2014

Kamisama no Beret


Networks, in general, have been known to produce television specials to commemorate a historical event or an illustrious figure, at times, even an iconic artist and his work. In celebration of 40 years since the manga Black Jack hit the stands, Kamisama no Beret shines the spotlight on its creator, Tezuka Osamu and the circumstances that led to his comeback in the 1970s.

Tracing the inception and inspiration of this popular manga would have obviously been the more interesting feature, but the special itself seems to be more than satisfied with merely extolling the virtue of hard work. It disputes the commonly accepted notion of the said artist's God-given genius and instead offers a portrait of a man who perseveres amidst times of failure.

Set in a period when emerging young comic artists exhibit their own style and readers are on the hunt for something new and interesting, Black Jack is acknowledged as a product of Tezuka's tenacity and one chief editor's unwavering confidence in the former's ability to craft a story.

Designed for the appreciation of kids and young adults, Kamisama no Beret is an inspirational but fantastical account of Tezuka's inquisitive nature and relentless energy. Detractors can argue the same to be a sanitized depiction of a revered personality's troublesome work ethic and questionable management skills, but his talent, his quirks, and whatever shortcomings as depicted comprise two sides of the same coin. Those who want more insight on the man and his work habits are better off watching the 1985 NHK Tokushu Tezuka Osamu: Sosaku no Himitsu documentary, but as a primer, the special does well in keeping things light and palatable.



Using unexplained time travel as a narrative device (just like in Superbook), the special is told through the point of view of new hiree, Odamachi Sakura (Oshima Yuko) of Akita Publishing, who is transported back to 1973. 
A crucial time for Tezuka (Kusanagi Tsuyoshi), the renowned mangaka hasn't had a hit in years and is saddled by debt with a company that's on the verge of bankruptcy. Through the help of Chief Editor Kabemura Taizo (Sato Koichi) of Weekly Shōnen Champion, he is given a break and commissioned to create an original 4-volume manga.

From hereon, Tezuka is shown to diligently work on conceptualizing Black Jack on his own. He gathers materials for his background research and spends hours contemplating on how to make his stories interesting and current. Despite having a team of artists working for him, his most productive hours appear to be spent working alone. And it's in his private workroom that the so-called magic happens, where he relentlessly and personally drafts each installment of his manga to his satisfaction.

Ever conscious of feedback, he strives to keep his work fresh; not thinking twice about delaying the submission of his work should he find it unfit for publication to the utter consternation of his colleagues and editors. He is said to be famous for missing deadlines and is often criticized for accepting more work than he is capable to deliver at any given time, but all misgivings about frazzled editors and over fatigued subordinates are brushed aside, seemingly justified by the magnitude of his body of work.


As an editorial assistant, Odamachi bears witness to the amount of time and work that goes into putting out a volume of manga. She is also made to realize---by having observed Tezuka's indefatigable spirit---the virtue of dedicating one's self to one's work. The primary tenet of this special argues in favor of "talent" and "perfection" acquired through persistent practice and revision as opposed to it being an inborn trait.  It's just a shame that for a special that recounts how a famous manga is made, Kamisama no Beret  provides nothing about the thought process that went into the composition of Black Jack as a character and a serial.

With thick black frames and the signature beret (not to mention a lumpy pillow for a belly), Kusanagi Tsuyoshi is able to replicate the familiar and amiable aura of Tezuka to moderate effect. Together with Tanaka Kei, Okada Yoshinori, Kohinata Fumiyo and Asari Yosuke, all playing bit parts but with equal reverence, this is one drama special that curiously pays tribute to a man who's been dubbed as "the god of manga" by making him appear ordinary when clearly, he's anything but. 
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Saturday, September 06, 2014

Nana to Kaoru


In stark contrast to the flock of pure love manga series that have been recently made into film, the live-action adaptation of Ryuta Amazume's Nana to Kaoru comes off as a black sheep, having at its core an innocent young love that's expressed in an untraditional manner. With an oiroke manga as its source material, this movie is simultaneously childish and funny, but also wistful and erotic. Those with a prudish disposition are advised to stay away, given that the subject matter of the movie involves two teenagers' accidental and awkward immersion into bondage and sadomasochism. Its premise may be weird and reprehensible but in the end, it does manage to do more by offering some insight into this alternative lifestyle than say, far-fetched, gratuitous bestsellers like Fifty Shades of Grey.

While scandalous in some respects for tackling behavior that is taboo, the film in itself is somewhat ero-lite. It's not as radical or provocative as Moonlight Whispers because despite the deviant display of fanservice, it often pulls back and settles into a teen romance. Yes, it has the ability to shock but it never goes into extremes, which is why it's in an unusual position to repulse viewers and at the same time touch their hearts. 

Would I recommend it? It really is a tough call to make for there are elements in it that work well and still elements that could have been done better. To appreciate it, one must keep an open mind and, since Nana to Kaoru firmly belongs in B-movie territory, a high tolerance for instances of poor acting. Be that as it may, it's certainly a leg up from manga-based adaptations of the same genre like Sundome.


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Childhood friends and next door neighbors, Sugimura Kaoru (Tochihara Rakuto) and Chigusa Nana (Nagase Maho) have slowly drifted apart through the years on account of seemingly different pursuits and interests. He's a slacker who has an S&M fetish, acquiring the nickname "Creepymura" for hanging out with horny boys in his section who oggle at girls and collect porn. She, on the other hand, is a natural beauty according to the movie anyway and  a model student who excels at pretty much everything she sets her mind to.

Kaoru knows that Nana is out of his league and has resigned himself to admire her from afar. His status as a pariah in high school prevents him from getting close to her, that is, until one fateful night, when he finds an embarrassed and insecure Nana on his doorstep in need of his help. He soon discovers Nana wearing the leather one-piece bondage outfit that his mother confiscated and is surprised to  see how it elicited such a visceral reaction from her. He's equally pleased to find out how receptive she is to his attempts to subjugate her and is beside himself with joy when he's solicited by Nana to help her out with her "breathers".

Armed only with the teachings of his beloved S&M guru Sarashina, Kaoru sets out to fulfill Nana's wish by preparing for and assisting her with her breathers. Together, they embark on this journey in secret, ushered by the satisfaction that they derive from being with each other and the thrill of being discovered doing something so... uhm, unconventional. 


The beauty of this Shimizu Atsushi adaptation is that it doesn't stray from its source material. The film endeavors to be sexy and erotic but is devoid of any nudity or sexual intercourse. It pays sufficient attention to Nana and Kaoru's relationship by following the progression of their S&M play, but more importantly, it underscores the level of trust, devotion and love involved in it. Aside from the apparent thrill and the perceived perversity of engaging in such activities, the screenplay doesn't fail to take into consideration the emotional connection that allows for this kind of intimacy. This much can be seen by how much Kaoru is shown to genuinely care for Nana and her well-being. Conversely, the same can be seen in Nana's willingness to submit to Kaoru even when she's shown to be naturally steadfast and domineering.

What sets Nana to Kaoru apart is its ability to balance its more risqué content with tender, heartfelt moments, this notwithstanding the fact that certain scenes as depicted have the inherent tendency to turn odious without proper direction. Viewers can witness the beginnings of first love, as often seen in countless movies, the only difference is that their red string of fate manifests itself through a leash and a collar. The smattering of comical sequences also tend to lighten the tone, they serve to emphasize the relative inexperience of its characters, though it would probably have worked better if they weren't made to vocalize their inner thoughts and emotions in the same batty air as manga and anime characters do.

Of the two actors, Tochihara Rakuto has the more worrisome task of transforming into a lecherous teen when playing the dominant role to turning into a lovestruck young man, plagued by self-doubt. He often goes over the top when Kaoru is at the height of their breathers but does a good job at conveying the softer side of the character. With Nagase Maho, it's more of a struggle. There's a duality to the role of Nana which is quite difficult to capture and more often than not, she ends up portraying her as a cute, whiny teen who tends to lick her lips at the thought of being called a bad girl. To be fair, the two of them do manage to create one or  two memorable scenes, which is more than a film of this kind can hope for. 
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Sunday, August 31, 2014

Keiji no Genba


Keiji no Genba provides a no-frills look at old school investigation work, focusing on the daily challenges encountered by those charged with the country's law enforcement in a mini-series that doesn't have the commercial appeal of BOSS, the highly dramatic backdrop of Gonzo: Densetsu no Keiji or the attention to forensic detail of Rinjo. On the flipside, its pedestrian quality can be considered its selling point, for though the episodes often lacked the element of surprise, it managed to do away with the pretense of trying to pull a fast one on its viewers at the expense of a logical narrative.

Showcasing just four episodes in its initial run in 2008, this cop show with an all too familiar premise of pairing a rookie cop with a veteran detective was appealingly short, however ostensibly incomplete, until it came back for a second season in 2009 wherein main character Kato Keigo appears to be under the tutelage of a different senior officer.

I've been meaning to write about this series for a while now but kept pushing it off since I wanted to see the second installment of this series to determine if it was actually any good or just some random mid-season insert in NHK's programming schedule. Unfortunately, despite years of waiting, its second season slipped through the cracks and never caught the attention of subbers. Come to think of it, I also never got around to securing the raws after the Feds took down Megaupload.

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Keiji no Genba essentially chronicles the on-the-job training of fledgling cop, Kato Keigo  (Moriyama Mirai) with soon-to-retire detective, Isesaki Shoichi (Terao Akira). The series starts with the investigation of a bomb threat at a local supermarket and proceeds to immerse viewers into the variety of incidents and cases that the members of the police force are asked to respond to on a daily basis. As mentioned earlier, what differentiates this show from others is that the depiction of events are always kept grounded, and law enforcement as an occupation is neither shown to be glamorous and exciting. It even gives particular emphasis to debunking the nobility and heroism often attributed to self-sacrifice, impressing upon the main character the value of staying alive in order to help others. 

Keigo's foray into police work is a lesson on calm logic and keen observation, patiently imparted upon him by a kind yet firm mentor. The difficulties faced by a newbie cop is highlighted in each episode -- the first one pits the rookie's zeal against a seasoned detective's intuition; the second, highlights the difficulty of remaining impartial when the person interrogated is someone you know; the third, shows how stakeouts and the apprehension of the criminal can be a tedious affair; and the last episode, pretty much demonstrates how rash decisions based on good intentions can be as lethal as not taking action. In all the cases, the culprit is shown to be an ordinary person. Criminal masterminds or psychopathic villains are not in attendance, for neighbors, housewives, teachers and doctors dealing with their own set of circumstances are shown to be equally capable of breaking the law. Serious crimes are portrayed but never in a sensational light, as such the show doesn't have a sense of urgency or intrigue, which sadly means, that it doesn't come off as particularly compelling or must-see television.

 

In Keiji no Genba, crime solving is more a matter of discipline and a product of a good work ethic. It is acquired through hard work and field experience; if one were to believe the elderly officers tasked to guide the new recruits that will soon be occupying their posts. The differences in attitudes and approaches could not have been more pronounced---as the older generation of law enforcers do their best to impart whatever knowledge they have to their younger counterparts (in view of the absence of intermediate officers given the country's aging population). The mini-series plays up this dilemma by focusing on the existing generation gap in the characterization of its two leads. Less subtle but equally effective, the same can also be seen in the general hair and wardrobe design of the series.  

Moriyama Mirai is adequate in the role of Kato Keigo, however it's the veteran actors, Terao Akira and Uzaki Ryudo, that lend credibility to the series and provide its moral core.

All in all, the first season of the series is watchable but extremely slow and uneventful going by today's expectations of the genre. As a buddy-cop series, the characters harken back to Kurosawa's Stray Dog, which means that any disagreement between them is handled in a civil manner with no prolonged conflict. As a police procedural, it does not have a penchant for violence or detail, neither does it attempt to be clever in any way or form, making this mini-series a middle-of-the-road entry.  
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Monday, August 25, 2014

Higashino Keigo SP: Brutus no Shinzou


Credited for producing gripping, unforgettable tales and commercially viable serials that translate well to mainstream media, Higashino Keigo's stories seem to be considered by television and movie execs as a safe bet. It's the only explanation why numerous adaptations of mystery novels have been made-- no doubt in the hopes of amassing the same viewership as its reader-fan base, leveled only against the off chance of screening to less critical acclaim. And though much can be said about the relative popularity and success of certain drama adaptations, this only serves to prove that all are not created equal, as poor casting choices and inconsistencies in quality, and possibly an inherent weakness in the story, continue to plague such feature presentations.

In 2011, Fuji TV increased its stockpile of the above author's work, commissioning three drama specials as a precursor to the anthology series (a.k.a. the poorly received drama entitled Higashino Keigo Mysteries), that was released a year later. The triumvirate made up of 11 Moji no Satsujin, Brutus no Shinzou and Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken proved to be an interesting selection---for though based on early material, each special managed to distinguish itself from the rest by drawing different scenarios and motives for murder.

Essentially stripped down and traditional representations of the genre, each one had something different to offer, though certainly, the appreciation of each would depend on one's literary and cinematic predisposition. 


Front act, 11 Moji no Satsujin  was the equivalent of a paint by numbers thriller about a writer that sets out to investigate the sudden death of her lover. The most cohesive of the three, it had a story that was easy to follow, marred only by the weak depiction of the relationship between the victim and the protagonist, making the whole investigation more of a dangerous past time than a quest for justice. 

On the opposite side of the spectrum, revenge thriller Kairoutei Satsujin Jiken ran high on intrigue and personal drama from the get-go but played out like a convoluted excursion into a jilted lover's demand for retribution. Heavily atmospheric and set in a different time period, this special had in its center a warped romance with a psychological twist brought to a head by a scenario which could have been drawn from cluedo. 

And so, between the banality of the former and the soap operatic tendencies of the latter, if I were to recommend viewing only one of the three, my personal pick would be Brutus no Shinzou. Deriving inspiration from the adage that "the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry", this special managed to mesh elementary story-telling with Hitchcockian sensibilities.

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Software designer Suenuga Takuya (Fujiwara Tatsuya) will do anything to rise up the ranks of an industrial company and further his robotics design research with the latest prototype, Brutus. He's managed to gain recognition for his work and present himself as a viable match to the CEO's daughter (Ashina Sei). But when his intermittent trysts with a secretary (Uchiyama Rina) threaten to derail his ascent to the top, he resorts to drastic measures to ensure his bright future. Along with two colleagues who share the same dirty secret, they plot to commit the perfect crime only to find themselves as the target of an unknown enemy.

The first hour of the special beautifully sets up the dilemma of the characters and ratchets the tension with the planning and the commission of an ingenious crime. The second half, however, was not that strong as things slowed down to a snail's pace with the subsequent elimination of  would-be suspects. What many might find issue with is the forced manner in which two seemingly unrelated events are sewn together to explain the flow of events but to be fair, this is a common device used by the genre.

Side characters and tangential storylines can be expected to comprise a bigger piece of the puzzle and whether or not they fit in perfectly can be attributed to how well or how little is revealed. In this case, the denouement was an awkward affair due to the heightened attention bestowed upon the main character and the consequences of his actions.


Delivering yet again, a ruthless tenacity to a character that is broken and morally corrupt, Fujiwara Tatsuya managed to effectively convey the arrogance and desperation of a man driven to succeed at all costs. Since the special is told from the point of view of Suenuga, it was important to get an actor who can be intense and emphatic, vile and resolute; and for this purpose, Fujiwara's repertoire of roles is of great service. The only drawback to this approach was that the revelation of the identity of the killer was ultimately sidelined by the more pressing question of what would await such a man who had such a low regard for the life of others. 

As a mystery thriller, it had pacing issues and took on an overt moralistic tone. The portrayal of Suenuga's skewed sense of morality and purpose tend to dominate the story but further reflection would reveal the absolute brilliance of the drama's title in capturing its beginning, middle and end. The primary strength of Brutus no Shinzou can be found in its thematic consistency---it's a tale about a friend's betrayal and of one man's cold and traitorous heart; moreso, it's about the folly of committing one's self to another who is incapable of reciprocating the same love and devotion.    
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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Anna-san no Omame


Breathing life into what could probably be the most annoying and dense character ever to be landed by a hafu celebrity, variety show-favorite Becky plays a rich, spoiled, delusional girl who wreaks havoc on the lives of men to head-splitting-throw-a-brick-at-your-television-screen-wanna-grab-her-by-the-neck perfection in a drama that can only be described as bonkers. Absolutely bonkers.

Mentally taxing for being ridiculously shallow, not to mention utterly pointless to the very end, Anna-san no Omame has a premise that would no doubt be funny or acceptable had it been a 20-minute anime feature but seeing it unfold onscreen with real live people is a whole different matter... Mitai na~

If there's any doubt that this series has the ability to firmly divide viewers on opposite ends of the love it or hate it spectrum, the fact that this came highly recommended by a trading buddy of mine (who also happened to tune me into Kekkon Dekinai Otoko) should be sufficient proof of its polarizing power. It's taken me four years to resume watching it after the shocking onslaught of silly that was episode one, and another year or so to decide to blog about it. And now in an effort to get it off my draft list, I present you with an antedated post that took another year to complete.
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When a regular, nondescript man named Kyoutaro (Kashiwabara Shuji) gets to exclusively date the epitome of Japanese beauty in Anna (Anzu Sayuri), he's beside himself with joy. But dating the most-sought-after woman in town includes establishing ties and getting along with the person whom she considers to be an invaluable person---her friend and roommate, Lily (Becky). Under normal circumstances acceding to this request would not be such an imposition but as it turn's out Anna's friend has it in her head that she's irresistible to all men, including  Kyoutaro, when nothing could be further from the truth.

This misunderstanding of sorts would lead to countless awkward, and at times dangerous situations, which merely serve to cement Lily's belief that her exceptional charm and beauty is to blame for all the trouble that people close to her encounter. Of course, Kyoutaro would want nothing more than to distance himself from this loud, crazy-eyed girl who can't seem to utter a sentence without puffed cheeks and a twitchy gesture, but Anna is adamant to have him shadow her best friend in order to protect her from a host of unsavory characters. Forced to do her girlfriend's bidding, Kyoutaro manages to save Lily from sexual predators, ruthless hostesses and even gangsters; the unintended result, however, is that Lily is now convinced that he harbors deep feelings for her.

Over the top and repetitive with a humor that can be a tad offensive, Anna-san Omame offers a brand of comedy that is highly dependent on one shtick; it draws all its laughs on the supposition that a character as exasperating and naive as Lily exists, and that a person such as Kyoutaro would endure all sorts of mayhem just to be with a dream girl who's best friends with a lunatic.


This plot device is actually made more outrageous once the viewer gets to meet Lily's affluent family which apparently had a hand in perpetuating Lily's delusions. There's the overprotective brother (Ikeda Tsutomu) whose concern for Lily can be quite touching if one were not inclined to wonder where he gets the free time to stalk watch over his sister and the parents (Kusakari Masao and Takahashi Hitomi) who consistently lavish their child with praise, raising her to believe that the world is her oyster.

Utilizing whacky visual effects that can be surmised to have been inspired by the thought of what it might have been had the Care Bears and My Little Pony & Friends embarked on an acid trip, Anna-san Omame saturates the show with bright colors, fantasy sequences, and dizzying camera shots that spin and zoom in more than necessary. This is one of those series that is zippy and zany, making use of in-your-face physical comedy that might not sit well with viewers in search of intellectual stimulation. 

Subtlety is not its strongest point, in fact, everything about the production matches the potent energy of its protagonist. Lily's outfits are a cosplayer's dream and the set pieces that represent each of the three main characters reflect their different personalities, following a specific color scheme. Scenes are shot at unexpected angles, some as a testament to the giddy and unsteady tone of the series and even some turning out to be surprisingly creative and beautiful in their own right.


The series hits its stride when it decides to parody drama tropes and iconic movies. There's really not much to say about character development but some unexplained personality quirks and the occasional plot point tend to fool the viewer into thinking that there's more to it than previously expected. It's just unfortunate that the opportunity for exposition all turn out to be a joke and whatever glimmer of hope for an actual story is nothing but a hoax. For example, the reason for Anna's unwavering loyalty and penchant to brush off Lily's crazy antics is given a flimsy back story, while the opportunity to give Lily some depth and a possible happy ending is squashed when the series arbitrarily reverts back to its merry, non-committal tone. Whether or not one chooses to go for the ride is a matter of preference, but to its credit Anna-san no Omame does not aspire to be something that it's not, nor does it give the impression that it has a solution to this unusual love triangle.

Fledgling celebrity Rebecca Eri Ray Vaughan, popularly known as Becky, bulldozes her way through the series, showing unwavering commitment in playing Lily and all her insufferable inanities. This break out role seems to be the first of a series of obnoxious, grating characters given to Becky as a hafu artist, followed by her role as Tanya in the Nodame Cantabile series and her stint as the tempestuous Kaiko in the Kaibutsu-kun SP. Not counting her sweet and dainty singing career as Becky♪♯, this girl has unluckily been pigeonholed to flutter those lashes and use those green eyes to the annoyance of many, when she's obviously capable of so much more. She actually excels when allowed to do something else---of note is how she single-handedly carried the body-switch scenario in episode 6 and how she demonstrated her untapped potential as a romantic interest in the penultimate episode of this series. Her appearance as the outgoing Saki to Ito Atsushi's stiff and button-downed Kazuo in the fourth segment of Propose Kyoudai was a step in the right direction, however the noxious imprint left by this series will most likely linger on.
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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

James Morrison : The Awakening Tour in Manila


Took some time off to catch the James Morrison concert last night.

Although admittedly not as familiar with his discography as my concert buddies, I did manage to listen to his latest album long enough to get the impression that it was a form of affirmation, if not a total celebration of sorts. Certain tracks sounded like a tribute, a veritable list of people and things that made this particular artist who he is today. The Awakening is arguably more upbeat than Morrison's previous offerings---I, for one, am amazed by the uncanny marriage of this singer's signature rasp and the Motown influence in his third album.

With a setlist of funky tunes intermingled with soulful ballads, this British singer-songwriter performed with a whole lot of swag, jumping and strutting on stage, infecting the crowd with his euphoric energy. The whole concert experience felt like a laid-back party with a take em' to church vibe and Morrison, the anointed preacher. With a unique gravelly voice (which I can only describe as one in dire need of a lozenge, but in a good way), this guy was a sight to behold as he unleashed his inner dance monkey before a crowd of onlookers who had no choice but to reciprocate his verve.

People probably came in droves wanting to hear sentimental hits like You Give Me Something and Broken Strings and let me just say that he didn't disappoint. He likewise sold his new material, singing up tempo songs like Beautiful Life and Slave to the Music whilst dialing things down a notch with heartfelt compositions like In My Dreams, I Won't Let You Go and  Say Something Now, all done with apparent ease and pride. 

There are performers who would often draw energy from the crowd but this one generated his own; he channeled it to everyone inside the Big Dome. This one had a light in him that made you stop wondering whether or not he took more than a swig of spiked Kool-aid, he had an energy and a force that can make you throw your hands in the air and say, "I'll have whatever he's having."

He was obviously having a good time that night and so were we. 

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Concert picture courtesy of Inquirer Entertainment
I initially planned to use a different picture for this blog post, but the picture that came with the Inquirer article pretty much captured the feeling of seeing Morrison work his groove.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

San Lazaro

 

Odd and yet surprisingly insightful, with just the right amount of tongue-in-cheek commentary about life, love and Youtube as a learning tool, Wincy Aquino Ong's San Lazaro peddles itself as another Asian horror movie that makes you assume that its focal point is a supernatural entity when in fact, it's all about inner demons---the kind that reside within, the kind that's powerful enough to disregard one's conscience, the type that can gnaw at one's being.

Going by the trailer, it's quite easy to tell that San Lazaro is not the type of  film that is capable of generating the same buzz as Cinemalaya entries like Ang Babae sa Septic Tank or Rakenrol. Neither does it have the mainstream draw of the adaptation of the Eros Attalia novel, Ligo na U, Lapit na Me. And while the premise of having two old schoolmates embark on a road trip to a far flung provincial town with the primary objective of taking a demonically possessed sibling to be treated by an exorcist may trudge on B-movie territory, the film manages to achieve a well-orchestrated dissonance, one that defies genres and intentionally throws off viewers but not without some satisfying revelations.

It can be likened to your uncle's trusty Volkswagen Beetle that's old, personally put together and full of character. Old, not because there's anything unoriginal about the script or the story, but rather old in the sense that it's the best vehicle available given budgetary constraints and its novelty. It's a bumpy and unpredictable ride but what's important is that it gets you to your destination.        


Aptly described as a horror flick, a road movie and a buddy comedy, San Lazaro gives its viewers a weird, disjointed journey into the lives of three individuals haunted by personal ghosts. There's awkward Sigfried (Wincy Aquino Ong) who's never had a girlfriend since birth, brassy Limuel (Ramon Bautista) whose bravado comes with a cache of tranquilizers [strong enough to put down an elephant] and troubled Biboy (Nicco Manalo) who may or may not be under the control of a malevolent spirit. 

Armed with a quirky selection of storylines which include a white collar crime and a woebegone search for Captain Barbell, told alongside the ill-advised transport of an unstable passenger who's spent too much time talking to an antique garden ornament, this is one film that revels in its geekiness and yet manages to tap into certain uncomfortable truths that are funny but not entirely laughable. The horror aspect of it has a distinct Filipino flavor; the random topics that make up the conversations between the characters can come across as either glib or smart but not to the extent of grating, verbal diarrhea, as can be seen in other productions. There's also a general sense of unease that accompanies the staggered flashbacks given the characters' seemingly close-eyed determination to suppress unwanted memories. The deadpan delivery of both Ong and Bautista effectively blurs the comedic and dramatic, while Manalo's commitment to the role serves as a reminder that there are greater forces at play that should not be ignored. 

All said, San Lazaro is not your typical horror flick; it's predominantly a dark comedy with some jarring and amusing turn of events. With special appearances by Bianca King, Julia Clarete, Ely Buendia and Kean Cipriano, and spot on performances from the likes of Allan Forte, Tony Gallano and Earl Ignacio, it's a film with a number of interesting sequences, some even shot with an obvious nudge and wink to make you in on the joke. Hammy, creepy and sobering at one go, from the minute the award-winning opening sequence by Burnwater Design Studios rolls alongside original music by Mikey Amistoso and Jazz Nicolas, you know that you're in for an adventure.
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