April 2005

If there was one thing that glued me hard to Film Studies in UP, it was Film Noir.

Brandon Lee's screen performance of James O'Barr's comics The Crow imprinted a personal fascination of the dark and dingy (contrasting blacks and whites), grim and gloomy, and seamy and sadistic shots, plots, and characters in contemporary cinema that I ditched Business School and shifted to Film in sophomore year.

I learned a great deal of Film Noir through classic films such as the German avant-garde The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Orson Welles' Citizen Kane, Brian DePalma's Scarface, John Huston's The Maltese Falcon, and Ridley Scott's Bladerunner. The pervading environment in a Film Noir is usually brutal, cynical, inhumane, seamy, and fatalistically pessimistic, which characterize the early (and current) gun-toting, crime-ridden, morally-deficient, and socially-decaying American movies.

And Robert Rodriguez' adaptation of Frank Miller's Sin City smacks right up the Noir alley.

G and I caught the matinee today with high hopes of stirring our visual cravings for the film buff in us; and Sin City didn't disappoint but delivered — and delivered exceedingly beyond expectations. Excellent would be an understatement, and; Engaging would be too modest words to describe the movie.

Here's why:

1. Director(s). It's a Robert Rodriguez opus with a directorial bonus: Quentin Tarantino. Sin City is like El Mariachi meets Kill Bill or From Dusk 'Til Dawn meets Natural Born Killers (although, arguably, the latter ones are more of Tarantino's than Rodriguez). And with a gun stuck in the temple of Jackie Boy's talking, dismembered head throughout the latter part of the film, Tim Burton would've been a brilliant add-on!

2. Action. Largely due to number 1, Sin City is inevitably a virtual gorefest. Of course, blood and gore are prime elements in Frank Miller’s cartoon novels but credit goes to Rodriguez and Tarantino to celebrate these elements on silver screen. Rephrasing Peter Parker’s line, Sin City is not for the faint at heart but for the morbid kind. The incessant flesh slash, head splits, body mutilations, and vengeful violence and boorish blood bath are a welcome motif throughout the film without the cringe, disgust, or repulsion.

3. Cast. Although the genre and cinematography alone would have carried Sin City to greatness, it had to employ an all-star cast that makes the movie all the more worthy of $6.50 ticket (and repeats as well). The cool, calm, and collected (comparably better — bars higher — than Batman's Commissioner Gordon) John Hartigan is played by Bruce Willis; Kidnap and child-rape survivor Nancy Callahan portrayed by Jessica Alba; Kevin, a young Hannibal Lecter brought to life by Frodo, er, Elijah Wood; Brittany Murphy as the sexy and slutty waitress Shellie; Clive Owen as the private investigator Dwight; Benicio Del Toro as Basin City's corrupt cop Jackie Boy; Rosario Dawson as hooker ring pimp Gail; Devon Aoki as the Samurai sword toting Miho, and; Alexis Bledel (of Gilmore Girls fame — a miscast in my book, though) as double-crossing prostitute Becky, among others (including Josh Hartnett and Michael Clark Duncan). Oh, forget not (lest I commit sacrilege) Nick Stahl as the pedophile yet erectile dysfunctional Yellow Bastard. Whew!

4. Plot. Three of Frank Miller's novels comprise the film adaptation of Sin City, which in Pinoy vernacular is sulit! The intertwined stories reflect the Noir genre highlighting the dark, sadistic, and inhumane sides of human experience. Flashbacks are employed to link characters and plots in highly oppressive environment where the protagonists operate. I rooted for Hartigan as he pushed his priniciples to the extremes to save a hapless child victim from crime and cruelty largely instigated by the Yellow Bastard and a corrupt society. His determined suppression of personal feelings toward Nancy proved as Noir as Frank Miller's stories can be: Fatalistic and heroic; Choosing pain and eventual death over doomed love. Ditto for Marv over Goldie against Kevin and Cardinal Rourk. And as in any FPJ movie, the underdogs triumph until the very end — gore and all.

Sin City is just an absolute treat. An unhealthy, intoxicating treat that is all eye catching, addicting, and drool inducing, which cannot be dismissed once peddled or teased to one's senses. All one needs to do is to just suck it all up and go with the stimulating flow. Woohoo! Watching Sin City is plainly just that: sinful. 


I didn’t ask for an extra five minutes.

I woke up shortly after a conscious thought was shaped. It took a few seconds to sit up and a few more to stand and head to the john.

A splash of cool water from the tap and a quick glance at the mirror stirred me to think, smile, and fully absorb today’s itinerary: Central Park.

I got giddy, so much so I skipped breakfast and stood at the bus stop 15 minutes early. Bucked the idea to drive to the city; Traffic, parking, and complex routes would’ve spoiled the day. And so G and I opted to take the N24 bus to the subway to Manhattan.

The subway reeked, but for $2 and the thought of Central Park, I couldn’t have cared any less.

By the fifth station, the coach was crammed. I had a hard time glancing at my subway map – a colored printout I prepared last night to navigate around – with two guys in silly trench coats standing closely by. G had a probing look; her eyes busy, looking around as if we were helplessly lost. I had to take another glance at the map. I looked stupid. The guys around me perhaps thought so, too. Bah! I didn’t flinch; In fact, I let my eyes lingered on the map longer – long enough for the others to frown and say, “Another tourist!”

Rockefeller Center Station. Time to change platform. Growl! Hunger tolled. G and I yielded. After snaking through the labyrinth of an exit, we found ourselves on 5th Avenue. St Patrick’s Cathedral beckoned ahead and we gave in to the tourists in us: We took pictures, oblivious to the scornful gaze of New York city dwellers.

Lunch was at Friday’s. It wasn’t the ideal choice. Proximity took command. And after 40 mins. of bad lunch special plates, bad service, bad priced bill, I reckoned nothing could make the day worst.

I was wrong.

Back at the subway, the B & D trains (the orange lines in my map) – the ones that were supposed to take us to Central Park – were out of service. It was past 1 pm. Shit! Half the day was put to waste.

I plucked my folded map from my denims. There has to be a way, else New Yorkers would’ve done an EDSA revolt of sorts. Ah! I coursed my finger through the map and followed a red line parallel that of the orange one, and, whoa! I found Central Park West Station four stations away from 7th Avenue Station. We had to walk though, much to G’s peeve.

The walk was a pain. A block in Manhattan is measured twice over than the average suburban one, or so my feet found fault on. G spoke nothing. She was pissed, I could tell. 7th Avenue Station was a stone’s throw away Times Square. Not even the Square comforted G. All she wanted was to sit to rest her Elle Woods legs.

The subway ride was swift. The walk to Central Park wasn’t.

We passed by Broadway Avenue and a row of apartments and high end residential flats until Central Park beckoned. Alleluia! G finally allowed a smile to slip. It was close to 3 pm and I was exhausted. I needed a Gatorade and there was none but Pepsi from the hotdog stand. I was parched but managed to resuscitate bliss within seeing Central Park in all its beauty. It was my third visit and it was and still is (to quote Fred Savage of Wonder Years fame) mesmerizing — all 800+ acres of it.

Today was a great day to stroll around the park. The weather threw a warm 58F and a clear and sunny sky. Perfect. The leaves were few yet budding; the grounds were strikingly sodded and landscaped; the people were surprisingly laid back and easygoing, and; the squirrels were out playing leisurely and oblivious to the human activities around (squirrels! in the wild, no slingshots to hunt with.Darn!).

G and I just sucked everything in, like preschoolers on a first field trip to the zoo. Of course, the camera clicked, and clicked some more. Every possible nook, especially where scenes from sappy films such as An Affair To Remember, Breakfast at Tiffany's, When Harry Met Sally, You've Got Mail, Home Alone, Maid In Manhattan, and (although arguably) Annie Hall were shot, was picture perfect.

My watch ticked 5.30. I frowned. I took a last survey of the park then sighed; 'Had to head back to Long Island lest we get caught in the heavy throng of rush hour traffic.

The subway train ride wasn't as bad as before. The orange line was in operation and, although still crammed, the coaches were okay. Save for losing the subway farecards, I'd say the trip back home went well.

We promised to go back really soon, though. We only covered the West side of the park. More sights await and ready for the suck in. Well, we'd gladly oblige (and indulge) anytime. 

It was time.

There wasn't any clock to peek at so I kept my eyes shut.

I just knew it was time.

Half awake, half asleep, I struggled. Five more minutes, I promised.

I tried to get back to the last dream sequence. I couldn't. The poke of consciousness suspended all thoughts.

My bladder summoned, too.

And so it was time.

Wake up!

I stood and pulled the door open; Sunlight pierced my eyes.

Forced by habit, my mind directed my feet to the toilet while recollecting the last thread of the dream before. And as the burning pee was released, so was any hope of ever remembering the dream and what became of it.

I was awake; Fully conscious.

Like a newly gassed-up machine, my mind began to churn to think. And so I reckoned the toothpaste was nearly drained; the sink was a bit dirty; my hair was a mess, and; the clock ticked 10.13.

Then it hit me. Today's April.

I have been three months old in New York — the longest, by far. No wonder I got sentimental yesterday and sorely missed Japan.

Thinking back, I knew I know I am getting older in New York. The signs of an accustomed me were all around — half-consciously condoned and overlooked: I know which corners to turn to, what streets to pass by, and what landmarks to watch out for when driving around the suburbs; I get discounts from and exchange pleasantries with the corner deli neighborhood store owner; I cut my laundry time in half and operate the machines like a pro; I breeze through the self check-out express lanes in supermarkets with utmost efficiency (cash or card); I know what program is on and which channel to tune into at any given time and any given day (no need to surf!); I need not offer directions to the Chinese Food delivery guy; I mean Manhattan when I say 'city', and; I'm on a first name basis with everyone else.

Well, these will all end in a few more weeks when G and I return to Japan. Yes, to reinforce last words in my previous blog entry, I'll miss New York, too by then. But today, I'm just blending in. 

I live in Japan for almost three years and it has become my second home by default given my scholastic pursuits and during these times, although arguably, I imbibed a good deal of the Japanese way of life. Having said that, in a sudden gush of forlorn and a hard hit of semblant homesickness, I miss Japan today.

Perhaps because I am overstaying in New York that its luster has somehow diminished, I am slowly veering away from feelings of overwhelm and excitement to treading into familiarity and indolence. Yes, New York isn't as orgasmic an experience as it was two months ago (or last 2003) and my restless self is probably shaken from deep slumber to harbor today's sentiments.

Sure, Japan turned out to be too novel yet too mainstream to sustain my interest, like the fate of The Vapors and their 80s one-hit-wonder 'Turning Japanese', as soon as I realized life was not as fun and adventurous as the countless anime cartoons I avidly grew up watching on TV. But having to sit out my studies for years, I learned to let Japan grow on me and, surprise! surprise! it somehow did.

How do I miss Japan? Let me count the ways…

I miss the Japanese toilet bowl. Gross as this may read, the Japanese toilet is an ingenious technology I give a great deal of shit about (pun intended). It has a built-in heater, sprinkler, deodorizer, and automatic flush that discharging impurities becomes a chore worth doing (even in public toilets!). It's like empowering one's bowel movement; or spoiling one's colon (get the drift?). Basta, shitting becomes an activity to relish (okay, the analogies are getting a bit out of hand…).

Next is the ubiquitous karaoke parlors. One's visit (let alone living) in Japan is fragmentary and even adulterated without singing the lungs out on one of thousands of recorded instrumental songs in a karaoke machine. Okay, for those who know me since kindergarten, I was never a singer. I hardly sing except on occasions confined in the bathroom. But, thanks to my stay in Japan, karaoke parties are an added occasion to belt out a song or two.It took a lot of coaxing and courage (and yes, practice) to pluck out the singer in me but, in time, I manage to carry the tunes of a very (and I mean very) selected repertoire of songs in a karaoke room. I discovered my music genres, and (brace yourself) they are alternative, rock, and a bit of the oldies; Pop, R&B, and love songs are an agony to carry out (much to G's dismay).

Hot springs or onsen. I study in a place in Japan where hot springs are like McDee's: popular and all over. For US$5, one can relish, revel, rollic, roister in a pool of hot, relaxing, and therapeutic spring water for hours until one's fingers are white and wrinkled.

Ebi tempura (breaded shrimp), yakiniku (grilled meat), and tabehodai (eat-all-you-can). I am not fond of Japanese food. I barf sushi and gag at any food with any hint of wasabe. But I gloat at the sight of and pig out on ebi tempura and yakiniku, especially on tabehodai parties. What is there to say but there are always an exception to one's gastronomic rule…

Gym. I sorely miss my gym workouts in APU. I go thrice a week for two hours each session. My well being was reduced to time spent on a treadmill and doing rounds and reps on machines that kept me fit and, well, sexy (at least for G). And, whoa! I never complain. Workouts discipline me more and offer good results (however relative) than learning kanjis. Now that I am away, my workout routines are irregular, heck, even palsied! This morning, I jogged five blocks and I figured I was out of shape after the first block with shortness of breath, muscle pains, and a throbbing headache. I walked instead and felt just as bad as the one time I lost my gym card.

Sakura. Spring in Japan is a sight to behold with cherry blossoms all around. I'm not really into flowers unless enroled in Botany (which was never, either) but the small and colorful sakuras dot avenues and parks that one can derive pleasure and marvel from by just looking! So much so, the Japanese churn out festivals and events celebrating the cherry blossoms, including picnics and BBQ parties. This year was supposed to be my last year with the sakuras, but since I am in the US, I guess I'll just go find the next best thing… Washington!

There are probably a laundry list of things in Japan I miss. Unfortunately, having to remember them is torture and as bad as nursing my current feelings of forlorn and homesickness. Perhaps, in time, I'll get to miss New York and all the other places I got to travel to, too. But for now, my restless soul needs to lay still and catch up on sleep. –D

Two weeks ago, some friends treated us to a nearby Japanese restaurant. Now, I am not really fond of Japanese food (I hate sashimi) except for a few I consider 'edible', but I tagged along nonetheless — it was a treat for crying out loud!

The restaurant was an eat-all-you can/ US$20 plate buffet. The selection was considerably wide, although I had reservations as I walk through the buffet table. For one, chicken katsu (which I was craving for) was not in the menu; there was no more miso soup (how sad!), and; the ebi tempura didn't look and taste authentic at all! I was frustrated but I wasn't there to mope or complain; I was there to eat and enjoy the company of friends. And so I relished the next best thing: yummy green tea ice cream. It took me three cups to get me nostalgic of Japan once again.

I miss Japan. Never in a million years have I thought I would say so but I do yearn to come back 'home'.

My love affair with Japan is akin to my liking of green tea.

I nearly puked when I had my first taste of green tea some years ago. But over time, I have come to love its almost bittery taste. The strong flavor grew in me that I now take pleasure in drinking Starbucks green tea frappucino and in eating green tea candies and mochi.

I came to Japan three years ago, armed with a few Japanese words and phrases I learned from the Nihongo course I took in the Philippines. I never took the course seriously because I thought the Japanese were capable of communicating with English anyway. Boy, was I wrong!

I have always imagined Japan as a cosmpolitan country and so I was not prepared to the slow-paced life that welcomed me in Beppu. I felt strangely disillusioned with the absence of skyscrapers, tall buildings and condominiums, large shopping malls, Western fast foods and restaurants and the hurried lifestyle that define the quintessential highly advanced nation. Evidently, I did not read much about my university and where it is located. And at that point, there was no turning back.

In time, I have learned to accept the fact that Pizza Hut is alien to Beppu and to eat pizza topped with corn kernels and mayonnaise is a norm; that life’s simple joys are going to onsen and karaoke; that everything in Japan literally comes with an expensive price tag.

And then there were the phrases. Over time, I have acquired the silly habit of mechanically saying hai! (yes), even to questions I could not fully decipher and sumimasen (excuse me) or gomen nasai (sorry) even at the most trivial of circumstances.

With all its oddities and eccentries, I have grown to love Japan. And I may even shed a few tears when I leave the place for good in a few months time.