Thursday, October 18, 2018
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Young Blood

Na-‘Kita Kita’ (I Saw You)

/ 05:10 AM August 06, 2017

Within weeks, “Kita Kita” entered Philippine film’s blockbuster history. Drawing its charm from Alessandra de Rossi and Empoy Marquez, Sigrid Bernardo’s work brings fresh air to the rom-com niche. What caught my interest and lured me to watch was the Katakana subtitle. Being a bit of a Japanophile, I was thrilled that the filmmakers made Sapporo their setting; indeed, there is a lot more to Japan than just Tokyo or Kyoto.

The film is a light watch, effortless to follow, and consistent in dishing out generous servings of humor and “feels.” Whether it is corny or not, the viewer finds himself, or rather lets himself be, spirited away by Empoy’s antics and Alessandra’s candid responses.


Sometimes when true love appears right before our eyes, we do not see it because we are too busy looking for it elsewhere.

The characters’ situation is grounded. And here lies the film’s victory: the successful projection of the ordinary in everyone. Almost every Filipino man can be Empoy’s Tonyo: no wealth, no status, short in good looks — in the words of Gloc 9, “simpleng tao na nagmamahal sa yo.” Alessandra’s Lea is also a character to whom almost every Filipino woman can relate: devoted, all for the sake of love. The film’s idealism serves it very well: Love trumps bitterness, good humor and kindness beat physical imperfections, and love blooms even in the middle of adversity.


But there are some disturbing things I was unable to unsee — things that deal with vulnerability and identity.

“Kita Kita” is a migrant story, not just a love story. Tonyo and Lea are economically vulnerable in the Philippines, and that is why they are in Japan. Both deal with jobs in the hospitality industry, which has always been associated with Filipinos in Japan. It is telling of the notorious labor export that continues to plague our country. We sell our people, mostly for cheap labor; we promote it and we are proud of it. Overseas Filipino workers are glorified as the new heroes — “bagong bayani” — which, I think, is in bad taste. OFWs do not heartily choose to leave their loved ones and their country; they are forced to because of our system’s inability to provide decent-paying and sustainable jobs.

On a personal level, the troubles of migrant life are seen in Lea and Tonyo’s ill-fated romances prior to their meeting. Psychological and occupational chaos ensues after their respective breakups: Tonyo becomes initially jobless and homeless, while Lea becomes blind and unfit for work. This shows us the lack, or the weakness, of organized support for distressed migrant workers. And this leads us to a more disturbing, if not sinister, vulnerability: the plight of disabled OFWs.

Lea’s disability makes her not only economically but also physically and sexually vulnerable. Sure, Tonyo’s altruism is not far off, but the total opposite is rampant. With no guardian, Lea is exposed to a stranger who has been stalking her. And in real life, no stalker is assumed to have good intentions. There is nothing romantic, nothing right, with stalking, and we should not tolerate those who say that only the ugly suitor is thus tagged: “Ang sumusunod, kapag gwapo, manliligaw, ’pag pangit, stalker.”

Tonyo is persistent in his physical advances to Lea in the forms of hugging (“Open the basket”) and attempted kissing (in the train). She is blind. And how is rape not far when a tipsy blind woman is alone with an equally intoxicated man? As in: “Gusto mo dun tayo sa kwarto? May sake akong nakatago.” Tonyo borders on becoming a sexual predator, and nobody bats an eyelash in this predominantly “Christian” nation. No wonder we tolerate even leaders of that kind. If another Lea out there was raped, people would be quick to say that she was asking for it when she chose to spend time with this stranger.

And identity? Tonyo frequently calls Lea “kabayan” — his countrywoman. This points to a certain national connectedness in the disjointedness of migrant life: No matter where you are, you are still a Filipino and the ties that bind us inevitably lead us to the country of our race. For example, to establish his presence, Tonyo appeals to national identity, nostalgia and longing: Filipino food and language. (However, Filipino is still Tagalog: “Nami-miss ko na rin mag-Tagalog.”)

Now to be critical about it: The film frames the female as an identity dependent on the male. The damsel-in-distress complex is evident: Man saves woman, Tonyo is the knight in shining armor bent on saving his “baby (a figure of dependency) dragonfly.” It seems that society is still unprepared for a woman who can save herself, or for a woman saving another woman, or for a force other than love that is capable of equally empowering and raising the broken.


Now why should we encourage this kind of critical perspective in artistic works such as film? African writer Chinua Achebe can very well respond: “Art has a social purpose [and] art belongs to the people….  Art is unashamedly, unembarrassingly, if there is such a word, social. It is political; it is economic.”

Yet I prefer to be sentimental. “Kita Kita” struck a chord in me. A sad one, though: Strangers should not become intimate with each other. Because when one leaves, the other gets lost.

* * *

Dom Balmes, 25, is a Japan studies major at the Asian Center, University of the Philippines Diliman,  and a writer at Nokia.

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TAGS: Alessandra de Rossi, Don Balmes, Empoy Marquez, Kita-Kita, ofws, romcom, Sigrid Bernardo, Young Blood
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