Film Festival Circuit II: Eiga Sai 2015 and the introduction to Ryuhei Matsuda

Watching Eiga Sai has been an addictive habit and if I could turn back, I would have wanted to have attended the very first edition of Eiga Sai. But I think when it started I was still in college, so it would have been a little difficult to spend almost the whole day to queue just to ensure a seat. Nevertheless, I’m still happy that it’s my third year attending it and I have my former then current work to thank for it because it opened more doors for me to discover my Japanese addiction.

The recent Eiga Sai was also attended by director Yuya Ishii and producer Takuro Nagai of the opening feature “Our Family” (2014) starring Satoshi Tsumabuki, Sosuke Ikematsu, Kyozo Nagatsuka and Mieko Harada about a family in the midst of breaking apart but a sudden news of their mother being diagnosed with cancer brings them back together.

It is based on Kazumasa Hayami’s same-titled novel and Ishii’s follow-up project to the commercial and critical success “The Great Passage” (2013) starring Ryuhei Matsuda. Ishii shared that he made the film because he understands some issues and situations the Wakana family is going through and can be likened to his own family.

This year’s line-up also includes contemporary films “Parasyte,” “Wood Job,” “Thermae Romae II” and “Princess Jellyfish.” And under the savory Japan category are “It’s A Beautiful Life – Irodori,” “A Tale of Samurai Cooking – A True Love Story,” “Patisserie Coin de Rue,” and two documentaries “The God of Ramen” and “Wa-shoku – Beyond Sushi.”

The Road to Ryuhei Matsuda

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It seriously makes me happy everytime I get to see one of my favorite actors at the big screen, even more so when it’s free, which is why I always make an effort to watch their film when it’s included in either the Eiga Sai or Korean Film Festival.

Just like 2013’s Eiga Sai where I first watched Kenichi Matsuyama at the big screen, who of course happens to be one of my favorite actors, this time, I was able to watch an actor who’s also very talented and popular for the first time who just became one of my favorites after seeing him in “Mahoro Ekimae Kyousoukyoko” (Tada’s Do-It-All House: Disconcerto).

The Great Passage opens the door 

Co-starring Aoi Miyazaki, Joe Odagiri

Unlike Kenichi Matsuyama, who I started following since I watched the first Death Note film back in 2006 or 2007, I have only seen or heard about Ryuhei Matsuda on Screen Red some weeks before the Eiga Sai started in Edsa Shangri-La Mall. I happened to chance upon his award-winning film “Fune Wo Amu” (The Great Passage) and Japan’s representative at the 2014 Academy Awards best foreign language film. But I wasn’t able to start the film so I ended up not watching it the first time. I saw it again few days after on TV, but again it already started.

And when the line-up for this year’s Eiga Sai came out, I saw his name in one of the films, and just like I always do I read each and every film’s synopsis and check out their trailers to make a shortlist. Fortunately, I ended up having the film on my shortlist because I like the trailer and the plot. So that’s the story of how Ryuhei Matsuda became one of my most favorite actors, next to Kang Dong-won who’s always been my top bias for the longest time, which means he already has pushed down some of my other favorite actors on the list who I have known longer than him. That’s how strong his effect on me.

Shota Matsuda in Hana Yori Dango 

Shota is the one in blue coat, first from right

But there is something else that totally sent me off the roof. That’s when I found out Shota Matsuda is his little brother. I’ve known Shota since the first Hana Yori Dango in 2005 but I think I saw the drama a year later, as I was motivated to watch the Japanese version of Meteor Garden that I so love. It just so happens that my favorite character is Hua Ze Lei in the Taiwanese version, who is Rui Hanazawa in the Japanese one that was portrayed by Shun Oguri. But in all honesty, I think Shota is the best looking among the four and and he’s perfect for Soujiro Nishikado’s playboy demeanor. Well that’s when until recently, I came to know about his beloved onii-chan.

I did kinda notice the similar surname but I didn’t pay much attention, and initially thought they just have the same surname but no relation. Finding out the real connection between them was a huge surprise, not that they don’t resemble each other, they do when you look closely, but more on the idea that they’re both very handsome and the fact that they’re even brothers – they share the same parents, same blood, growing up together makes it something close to a miracle. It’s not everyday, even in celebrity siblings that you get two brothers or two sisters who are both equally handsome and very talented. It was like my mind wasn’t very ready to take the awesome fact, totally blew my mind.

But then things took a different turn and I came to adore Ryuhei more than Shota. The very first thing I noticed about him is his tender cat eyes, they just look so mysterious and somewhat sad. His eyes speak volumes of things and stories in the most mysterious ways. And I love it when he smiles because I get to see his dimples and his silly laugh in the Mahoro series all got me. I find his features different from Shota despite having a resemblance to each other, because Shota is more of the conventional kind of a good looking guy and Ryuhei is not, which is why my vote goes to Ryuhei.

Mahoro Films and Series 

Mahoro Ekimae Tada Benriken, the first film

I started with Ryuhei at the recent Eiga Sai through the second film titled Tada’s Do-It-All House: Disconcerto and third installment of the Mahoro series, one of the most popular and most successful series of film and TV adaptations from the the Naoki Prize-winning series of novels by Shion Miura.

Mahoro Ekimae Bangaichi – the series

In this second film, Gyoten (Ryuhei) has been staying with Tada (Eita) in running his benri-ya (handyman business) in Mahoro, a fictional laidback place in Japan for two or three years since the events from the first film (2011) and the series (2013). They accept almost all kinds of odd jobs, from cleaning, organizing, walking pets, driving and more. And most of the time, the two get involved with their clients more than they should. Tada and Gyoten are both divorcees, with past stories they want to forget and run away from.

Mahoro Ekimae Kyousoukyoko – the second film

This time, the two buddies are tasked by the local gang leader Hoshi (Kengo Kora) to investigate a mysterious cult group that produces and sells organic vegetables. Things get more messy when Nagiko, Gyoten’s former wife with whom he has a young daughter named Haruka is placed in the care of Tada while she’s away overseas. Tada is scared of what Gyoten might do, especially since he knows Gyoten doesn’t like kids and even more so when he finds out the little girl is his daughter.

Scenes from the series

What I love about the duo of Ryuhei and Eita is that they really complement each other, this one of a kind chemistry I haven’t seen in male actors before. And because of their amazing combination, I feel as an audience that Tada and Gyoten would be at lost without the other.

At the time Gyoten met Tada again in years at the bus station from the first film, it was the right moment for the both of them. Tada, then still couldn’t moved on from the passing of his son that led to his divorce, while Gyoten was on his way to kill his parents because they keep asking Nagiko to see Haruka. I know these all now because I’ve already finished the first film and the series after seeing the second film of course.

It’s also a unique story of two former classmates who find themselves face to face with each other again and becoming best buddies in the process, helping each other out when one needs the other. I have never seen such a story in any of the dramas I’ve seen before.

It’s also very unpredictable and highly enjoyable, I could never guess what adventure would the two be involved with in the next episode. Well-acted, mainly from Ryuhei and Eita who carry the direction of the film and series, picturesque cinematography and fun-loaded, naturally funny story and episodes.

And because of everything, Gyoten Haruhiko has become one of my most favorite fictional characters ever.

I’m also very delighted to know that The Great Passage, in which he won a number of best actor awards will be out in English edition next fall by Amazon Crossing as I was told by a caring staff from Kobunsha, its original publisher when I asked a sample English translation of the novel.

Film Festival Circuit 1: WPFF and 20th French Film Festival

I’ve been going around to many film festivals this past months of June and July – the 20th French Film Festival, the 2nd edition of World Premieres Film Festival and Eiga Sai 2015. It was my first time with WPFF and French Film Festival and my third year attending Eiga Sai. Eiga Sai has been a tradition to me, but the other two were a chance to see some other films.

A humorous story of a not so ordinary family 

I went to see La Famille Belier, the opening film at this year’s French Film Festival. With every film festival, I always go through each and every film to make a shortlist of the films I’d like to see. If the trailer is interesting for me, then that’s more than enough reason for me to see the film. I had two shortlisted films but had to just watch one because unlike Eiga Sai, it doesn’t come free.

La Famille Belier is a heart-warming and humorous story of a family whose parents and son are deaf and must cope with their non-deaf daughter Paula decision to leave for the big city. Paula is the family’s reliable interpreter and helps in running the family’s farm. Despite most of her family members being deaf, Paula and her family live normally just as everyone.

At a music class, her teacher discovers her singing talent and encourages her to join a prestigious competition. At first, Paula wasn’t so interested with the idea of singing but she eventually decided to take up after school lessons with her teacher and started enjoying it. She still continues with her normal day-to-day duties in the farm but hasn’t discussed with her family that she has been taking up singing lessons.

I enjoyed the simplicity of the plot and how her family members interact with each other and do things just like everyone does without the usual conversations, but instead, of actions and sign language.

I appreciate the patience and sincerity of Paula’s character that despite being different from the rest of her family, she doesn’t make them feel like she’s normal and they’re not. Instead, it’s her blending well with her parents and younger brother and tries to understand them in every way she can.

It’s a nice story of a family that’s just like everyone but not so ordinary. A heartwarming path to adulthood story of a teenage girl as she discovers in herself a talent that could be her lifelong dream and passion. It’s about pushing for your dreams even though it might not turn out for the best. And of parents overcoming their fears and apprehension and deciding to support their daughter in spite of so many uncertainties of what could happen to them after their interpreter daughter leaves the family temporarily and of her possible life in the big city.

A 30-something pressured to get married

In this year’s 2nd edition of WPFF, I’ve decided to watch an Indonesian film titled “Kapan Kawin?” (When Will You Get Married) under the ASEAN Skies category. The ASEAN Skies category covers films from 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN): Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and the Philippines.

What attracted me to the film was that its lighthearted comedy approach to a serious issue, which is about women and getting married before they turn 30. It tells the story of Dinda, played by Adinia Wirasti, a successful 33-year-old hotel manager in the bustling city of Jakarta. But she’s a cut above the rest because she’s still single.

Her parents have been consistently badgering her to get married every year on her birthday, and it gets more troubling for her everytime she gets compared to her older sister who’s seemingly happy in her married life with a businessman and son William. This time, Dinda makes a serious decision and hires Satrio, a street actor to pretend as her boyfriend during the upcoming anniversary of her parents.

While it may not be a very original story, especially with the hiring someone to pretend to be this and that but in other sense, it’s still a different film.

According to producer/writer Robert Ronny who was gave a brief Q&A after the screening, it is a cultural phenomenon for women in Indonesia to be married before they reach 30. Although this social pressure is not heavily felt in the “megapole” Jakarta, but more in other places in Indonesia like Yogyakarta, which is also one of the reasons they decided to shoot the film there. It is considered as an important accomplishment in life for women and for some, being unmarried beyond 25 may even be considered a sin.

Ronny added that he believes in this kind of genre, the film is able to deliver the message of understanding this social pressure in an efficient combination of well-balanced lighthearted at serious elements not only in Indonesia, as well as in other cultures. It also gives light to the topic of following the parents’ wishes even though it may not necessarily be for the best of their children, as well as the parents being more open in accepting their own mistakes and the decisions of their children.

The story’s conclusion might be a little predictable but I highly appreciate the way the story panned out. It wasn’t made in a way that’s too serious or too comedic that it ends up being sloppy. Plus, the story of Dinda is someone anyone can easily relate to, whether you’re 30, 30-something or 20-something, where it also showed the effects of modern society to decisions being made by women of today in their search for happiness in family and marriage.

In any case, most women would have had that experience of being annoyingly asked when they’ll get married or when they’ll have a boyfriend though it may not exactly be culturally-rooted like Dinda’s situation.

The chemistry between the two leads Adinia Wirasti and Reza Rahadian is also one of the driving factors of the film. Most of the humorous scenes were from Rahadian in his interactions with Wirasti and succeeds in bringing out natural laughs from the audience. And not to forget, the film’s cinematography is another I highly appreciate. Since the location is a place I don’t really know much about, the film has wonderfully introduced the place to me in a way I wasn’t expecting. And yes, I really like the ending credits song but until now I still don’t know the title.

So that’s about it for my first time at the French Film Fest and World Premieres Film Festival.

Dia Internacional del Libro: Commemorates Don Quijote’s 400th year publication

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I haven’t had any special reason to visit Instituto Cervantes before, until I found out about the 10th edition of Dia Internacional del Libro (International Book Day). I specially got interested to attend because of the special activities laid out for attendees, in accordance to the commemoration of the 400th year of publication of Miguel de Cervantes’ second volume of “Don Quijote de La Mancha” (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote of La Mancha).

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Instituto Cervantes, Spain’s cultural center in the country has made the 10th edition of Dia Internacional more exciting this time and totally a different kind of book fair with La Noche de los Libros (The Night of Books), which was a whole evening of free entertainment that includes Spanish food games, jazz concert, poetry recitals, free Spanish classes, book market, and photo contest.

The Tradition of Books and Roses

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Internacional del Libro also happened to be on the 23rd of April, which is famous as St. George’s Day in Spain. During this day, people go to festive markets at the town center, particularly in Barcelona to purchase books and roses and give these to their loved ones. It also coincides with other cultural and literary activities, such as book signings and readings of Spanish literature.

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In tradition, men offer roses to important women in their lives, while women give books in return. And in honor of this tradition, the first 100 visitors that day received roses upon entrance at the center. Every purchase of books at the book market also came with a free rose and a free book of their choice, as well as participants of the night’s different activities.

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Re-Writing of Don Quijote

Unfortunately, I wasn’t one of the first 100 visitors but then again I was lucky to be part of the Escribo el Quijote (Re-Writing of Don Quijote), wherein 500 book-lover volunteers took part in what they call the “Quixotic” endeavour – that is to hand-write Cervantes’ immortal novel, Don Quijote de La Mancha that is considered to be one of the world’s greatest novels ever written. Each volunteer had two minutes to copy few sentences of the novel that started from 4PM to 11PM. The final hand-written book was deposited at the Library Miguel Hernandez at Instituto Cervantes.

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This is where I got two roses, two roses because my turn was supposed to be at 8PM but it was already 9PM when I got to it. A senior official was kind enough to give me two in exchange of my patience and dedication to wait for my turn, though it was past the time it should have been.

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In part of the celebration for Don Quijote de La Mancha’s 400th year publication, a special set menu, the La Cocina del Quijote was prepared by Chef Juan Carlos de Terry that is based on some of the dishes and wines mentioned in the novel on April 17th at Terry’s Pasong Tamo, Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati.

I took home two books as well from Anvil Publishing (Confessions of a Volcano by Eric Gamalinda and Reading Korea: 12 Contemporary Stories), which entitled me to another rose. I have yet to start reading them though, as I’m still occupied with another book.

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That day’s buddy was my cultural events buddy Myleen. I initially planned to go by myself but I invited her to come along and good thing she was free. We didn’t get the chance to check out the library though, which is something I should come back to.

We both had fun being part of the Don Quijote re-writing activity while listening to jazz music in the background, discovering new books to journey in, watching groups of people and friends chatting, and just simply wandering around the place.

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I forgot to mention it was held outdoors, and they have this garden with a well at the center surrounded with trees, and it was simply picturesque at night. We even found a tree with flowers that’s like cherry blossoms, though we aren’t sure if it is a Sakura tree.

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Instituto Cervantes also held a film series on migration last month featuring films such as “Edna” (2014) starring Irma Adlawan, directed by Ronnie Lazaro about real and imagined fears of overseas Filipino workers; “El tren de la memoria” (2005) by Marta Arribas y Ana Pérez about migrant Spaniards leaving the country to different destinations; “Extranjeras” (Foreign Women) (2003) by Helena Taberna about migrant women in Madrid; “Flores de otro mundo” (Flowers From Another World) (1999) by Iciar Bolain about a group of women in search of stability and companionship and men in search of wives in a small town in central Spain.

It was followed by the film cycle, Great Books on Screen in all Saturdays of June. It included films adapted from novels: “La Colmena” (The Beehive/1982) about stories of people in Madrid 1942, post-Spanish civil war; “La Lengua De Las Mariposas” (Butterfly Tongues/1999) about an extraordinary relationship of a shy boy to his compassionate teacher; “Obaba” (2005) about a woman and her journey to Obaba, a small town in the Basque Country; and “Soldados De Salamina” (Soldiers of Salamina/2003) about a young novelist who has lost inspiration and became a journalist to investigate a true story that took place at the end of the Civil War and involving an infamous writer and an anonymous young soldier.

To know more about Instituto Cervantes, check out their website at manila.cervantes.es, facebook.com/InstitutoCervantesManila and @ICervantesMnila.

‘The Taiko Effect: Drums of Change’ – An Immersion to Japanese Traditional Arts

Photo from Taiko Concert Facebook page

Traditional Music Instruments 

In my previous post titled “Balik Tugtog,” I attended a music event organized by students of Arts Management from De La Salle St. Benilde and I got to experience hearing well-known OPM music with a different touch due to the addition of traditional instruments such as kulintang, nose flute, among others. This time around, I got to attend a Japanese traditional arts performance featuring the Taiko drums, a traditional Japanese drums called “The Taiko Effect: Drums of Change.”

MT. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra and Arahan

MT. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra and Arahan

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According to my research, the Taiko drums have long been part of the Japanese way of life since the old times. The unique and loud sound of the Taiko drums is believed to have some kind of power and connection to different gods and goddesses, and is mostly used in religious ceremonies back in the days. It was also used to signal the start and end of important activities in communities in Japan, as well as to signal the coming of a storm or a good weather. At present, it remains an important aspect in Japanese folk performances, classical music performances, theatrical musicals and stage plays.

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I consider being able to see and experience things like this as the best part of this work. Ever since I started with this work two years ago, it really opened me to more opportunities of attending cultural events, which are most of the time free, specifically the ones organized by the Japanese Foundation – Manila. It’s also the reason why I started veering more into anything that’s Japanese, although my love for anything Japanese has been there even before I started working for the publication but I’d have to say this ignited the love more.

Benefit Concert for Philippine Cultural Sites 

Anyway, the concert is a benefit concert for the restoration of cultural sites in Bohol that were damaged by calamities. It was held this April 11 – 12, (Sat. & Sun.) at the Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo (CCP Main Theater) of the Cultural Center of the Philippines. It featured main performances from Taiko groups – Mt. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra and Arahan, Hasegawa Karate, as well as opening performances from Japanese OPM artist Aisaku Yokogawa, Koto artist Yu Miyoshi and flautist Mariko Saito.

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Japanese-OPM artist Aisaku Yokogawa

Aisaku Yokogawa opened the show with his perfect Filipino speaking skills and wonderful vocals with his rendition of some popular OPM songs with Japanese influences such as, Ted Ito’s “Ikaw Pa Rin” and “Ikaw.” He also acted as the emcee and I like how he naturally blends with the audience in a cleaver and humorous way.  I wanted to take a picture with him after the show, but I just couldn’t as I was alone and it’s really hard to be taking a selfie as I’m no expert. My favorite performance of him had to be Ikaw with a dreamy accompaniment of the traditional stringed instrument “Koto” from Yu Miyoshi.

Aisaku and Koto artist Yu Miyoshi

Aisaku and Koto artist Yu Miyoshi

The stringed instrument Koto is a traditional instrument that is made of wood with 13 strings. China, Mongolia, Vietnam and Korea have a similar kind of stringed instrument as well.

Another of my favorite part too is the combination of the Koto and flute from Yu Miyoshi and Mariko Saito, who are known as Tinsel Tone in their performances of “Haru no Umi” (The Sea in Spring) and “Matsuri no Taiko” (Taiko Festival). The sound from the two instruments gives off that enchanting feel, as if it’s bringing you to a fantasy like place dimension.

Yu Miyoshi with flautist Mariko Saito

Yu Miyoshi with flautist Mariko Saito

If the opening performances were deeply enchanting and dreamy, the moment Mt. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra and Arahan started beating the Taiko drums, the atmosphere immediately got pumped up as if the big, bold and loud harmony of drums are pulling you from a slump.

Hasegawa Karate's demonstration to the music of the Taiko drums

Hasegawa Karate’s demonstration to the music of the Taiko drums

From the choreography, posture and the harmonious flow and rhythm of their hands beating the drums with the delightful accompaniment of the flute and infused with karate demonstrations from Hasegawa Karate in their performances of “Yama Hensou Jokyoku” (Mountain Variation Overture), “Karako” (A boy dressed in ancient Chinese clothing), “Shindo” (Imperial Wrath), “San-ban” (Third), “Yama” (Mountain), “Oni” (Demon), and “Beat of Drum Motion,” they create a music that’s unique and can only be heard from the Taiko as it sparks the life and emotions in you.

The Performer Backgrounds 

Mt. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra was formerly known as Yamanashi Japanese Drum Symphony Orchestra. The group hails from Yamanashi prefecture where Mt. Fuji is located. The orchestra aims to impart to the world the unique and distinct beauty of traditional Japanese arts.

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Arahan is also another Taiko group from Yamanashi prefecture and is a frequent collaborator of Mt. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra. Arahan is also part of Yamanashi Artistic and Cultural Association. The late well-known composer Sen Amano led the orchestra before his passing.

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Hasegawa Karate also performed their karate demostration and gave a different but harmonious combination with the music of the Taiko orchestra groups. It was built by a couple who are both Karate masters, six-time World Karate Champion Shinichi Hasegawa and two-time World Champion Yumi Hasegawa.

They teach their students karate, a form of martial arts as a method to educate the youth and strengthen their physical and mental health. At present, there are already five karate schools established by the couple in Yamanashi prefecture. Their teachings have already reached the Philippines where they have 1,000 students of Shitoryu Karate.

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Koto artist Yu Miyoshi was a former chairman of Kyoto Traditional Music Association and studied under the tutelage of Mikka Danno. Flautist Mariko Saito on the other hand started playing the flute when she was 12. She’s been a part of Isahaya Symphony Orchestra, Nagasaki University Orchestra and “Wind Ensemble.”

The concert is part of the continuing friendship and cooperation between Japan and the Philippines through cultural exchange programs. It was headed by Hiromi Ishioka, chairman of ASEAN Exchange Committee and chief executive officer of Akafuji Daiko, and supported by Japan Foundation – Manila and Embassy of the Philippines – Tokyo.

After the show 

After the show members of the audience were able to take photos with Mt. Fuji Taiko Symphony Orchestra, Arahan and Hasegawa Karate, as well as autograph signing of the Taiko Effect: Drums of Change poster.

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Aisaku with an audience member

Aisaku with an audience member

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My ticket, camera pass and program info

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My autograph poster

Balik Tugtog: Infusing Contemporary with Ethnicity

I can’t call myself a big supporter of the local music or OPM as it is known by many. I wasn’t even buying albums in record bars to support artists that I like. It was only when the whole Korean Wave craziness started for me that I began buying albums, and Korean artists’ albums are way more expensive and to think that I even had to buy them online. However, for me I’m only buying albums of one artist, they’re a group who have been together for 17 years and going strong. For the rest of good Korean music, I go for downloads and the same with Taiwanese, some Chinese and Japanese music. But I have since slowed down on buying for about two years now.

But this is not to say I haven’t even listened to any OPM songs. I do have some OPM songs that I really like. The thing is though, I’m very selective when it comes to music, not just OPM but all kinds of music I listen to. For one, I consider myself a fan of the alternative rock group Hale who made a comeback this year with their amazing single “See You” and a mesmerizing new album, which is available for streaming on Spotify, and digital downloads on iTunes and Deezer.

Listen to the album here:

I still remember the first time I heard them over the radio and I actually thought they were a foreign group. It was “Broken Sonnet” and that’s how I fell in love with their music. I specifically admire their talent in writing great songs and that they have their own sound that can only be heard from them. For me, that’s original despite the influences.

Then there’s Kitchie Nadal, I like most of her songs but particularly “Wag Na Wag Mong Sasabihin.” There’s also Up Dharma Down’s “Oo,” Christian Bautista’s songs, Top Suzara’s “Sabihin Mo Na,” Janno Gibbs “Fallin,” some Moonstar 88 songs, MYMP, some songs of James Reid and Nadine Lustre and Silent Sanctuary to name a few.

And some of the songs and artists’ songs I mentioned were featured in Balik Tugtog – A Night of Indigenous & Contemporary Music, which is a program presented by the Arts Management students of College of Saint Benilde held at Black Box, School of Design and Arts last March 20.

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Spaceman (Mark Enriquez (vocals/guitar) and Alex Price) front acts for Balik Tugtog - A Night of Indigenous + Contemporary Music

Spaceman (Mark Enriquez (vocals/guitar) and Alex Price) front acts for Balik Tugtog – A Night of Indigenous + Contemporary Music

Experimenting Original: Traditional & Contemporary 

Balik Tugtog aims to promote both OPM and ethnic music. Daluyong, the main act of the event is a band composed of Grace Buenaventura (vocals) from UP Musicology, the rest are students from UP College of Music: Nikko Saliva (guitar), Carl Tolosa (bass), Nicky Juanite (Philippine instruments) and from Benilde’s Music Production Program: Stephen Arevalo (drums) and Theo Blanch (keys). The opening act is Spaceman (Mark Enriquez (vocals/guitar) and Alex Price), also from the Music Production Program.

Daluyong, the main act of the event is composed of students from UP College of Music/ UP Musicology and Music Production Program of Benilde

Daluyong, the main act of the event is composed of students from UP College of Music/ UP Musicology and Music Production Program of Benilde

I was instantly interested with the event because it’s about the combination of contemporary and indigenous music in the country. I wanted to see and listen how Daluyong, the main act will perform some of the best known songs in the country from the 90s – 2000s by infusing some of the Philippines’ ethnic instruments.

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I think this is one thing that’s lacking in the local music industry. Artists have been very busy trying to go along the trend of what’s in and what’s not in Hollywood and now even  in Korea. But I haven’t seen anyone trying to incorporate ethnic music and instruments in their genre. I’ve seen this kind of style in big artists like Taiwan’s Jay Chou and Leehom Wang. Leehom Wang in particular is very known for popularizing his genre he called “Chinked-out” – an incorporation of unheard tribal sounds of aboriginal Chinese music, Tibetan music, Mongolian music, as well as Beijing opera and Kunqu opera.

Considering the name OPM – Original Pilipino Music, the word original seems to have a broad meaning. According to Carl Tolosa (bass) of Daluyong, the idea of Pinoy music in the 90s are Siakol and Eraserheads that are inclined in the rock genre. “It’s not original anymore because there’s already the influence of The Beatles, an internationally known band.” Theo Blanch (keys) also added, “Considering the phenomenon, globalization, we are quick to copy from others.”

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The statement of course is true as everyone must know that before OPM got its start, there are already a lot of foreign artists doing the rounds. A lot of foreign music influenced OPM then and now. It’s not hard to recognize how foreign music are dominating the preference of most people nowadays, which is also why Daluyong believes it is important to remain rooted to our traditional music.

So how would artists create original music despite the influences? And that is the very essence of Balik Tugtog and Daluyong – the challenge of spicing up contemporary music with traditional.

Connecting Traditional Music to Today’s Music 

And as their name “Daluyong,” which means storm, surge or flow of stream suggests, the members aim to connect traditional music to today’s Filipino music, as well as encouraging everyone to be open minded and get to know more the history and culture of our traditional music heritage.

Ethnic instruments featured at the event were the gong ensemble, kulintang from Maguindanao, tongali – a nose flute from the Kalinga provinces, gandingan – set of hanging gongs from Bukidnon, dabakan – single headed drum, and kubing – jaw harp from Mindanao.

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According to Nicky, an Asian Music major from UP, traditional Philippine music is composed of instruments from South Philippines, Central and North Philippines. Most of the instruments from the south are gongs and from the north are bamboo instruments.

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Among the performances, I specially like the version of Up Dharma Down’s “Oo,” partly because I already like the song a lot. When I heard it live with the integration of traditional instruments, it gives off that different vibe as if it’s a new song.  The whole event was all at the same time a beautiful throwback, nostalgic and yet refreshing.

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It was so beautiful to the ears how they were able to strike a great balance in maintaining the recognizable touch of the songs but also giving it a fresh new take with incorporating ethnic flavors.

Attending Balik Tugtog with my workshop buddy and college friend Anna was a delightful experience. It was the first time I ever experienced listening to music performances with traditional instruments. It was an enjoyable jamming session with Daluyong and Spaceman as they performed hits from the 90s-2000s such as, “Awit ng Kabataan (Rivermaya),” “Akap (Imago),” “Rain Song (Imago),” “Tuloy Pa Rin (Neocolors),” “Oo (Up Dharma Down),” “Migraine (Moonstar 88),” “Ang Huling El Bimbo (Eraserheads),” “Mata (Mojofly),” “Harana (Parokya ni Edgar),” “Masaya (Bamboo),” “With A Smile (Eraserheads),” and “Jeepney (Kala).”

Someone at Studio Ghibli call this student film-maker and give him a job! 【Video】

I hope Studio Ghibli pick this up and develop it into a full length feature film. It’s just worthy of it.

I’m already interested just from the plot alone, of a young man living on a treetop village and meeting strangers.

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Lush greenery, magical flying machines and huge, squelching monsters, overlaid with a soaring orchestral soundtrack. This animated short makes no pretence about its strongest influence – it’s a beautiful homage to the works of Hayao Miyazaki.

The film even features a mysterious-looking gentleman who looks suspiciously like Miyazaki himself. But this short, which has been gaining attention online in Japan and abroad, was not made by a team of professional animators, but a young film student in Paris.

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Year of the Sheep: Bright Lights, Bright Beginnings

It was indeed bright lights and bright beginnings for everyone, including Filipinos who may or may not have Chinese blood or lineage. I was at the Lucky Chinatown Mall recently to join in the fun of welcoming the Year of the Sheep in my usual solo demeanor.

Chinese lanterns light up the night at Lucky Chinatown Walk. I love these, they're one of my most favorite things. It just simply makes me smile whenever I see them.

Chinese lanterns light up the night at Lucky Chinatown Walk. I love these, they’re one of my most favorite things. It just simply makes me smile whenever I see them.

I’ve always liked this place ever since I found out that there’s this new mall in Divisoria. It has this different vibe when I see the facade of the mall buildings – the colors and structure, something that makes me feel like I’m in Macau.

Every year, feng shui experts give out predictions for the year, including some information about the fate of the different 12 animal signs. It doesn’t really matter whether they will come true or not, rather like what they always say, treat it as a guide. So it doesn’t really harm that many Filipinos like to follow the practices or traditions that are believed to be lucky for the year.

Despite having Chinese lineage, I wasn’t brought up in a family following the usual Chinese traditions like the Chinese New Year but I’ve always recognized the Chinese part of myself, which is probably why I love HongKong. I wanted to get in touch with my Chinese ancestry, so joining in the celebration is one great way to do so even on my own.

And just like how the Catholics pray to God for their wishes, the Chinese have the Buddha to pray to and guide them in their everyday life, accompanied by a range of lucky charms and practices that are believed to ward evil and negative vibes and bring luck and prosperity.

One of the most popular attractions was the Prosperity Tree, which was the first thing that welcomes you when you approach the mall entrance. The Lucky Chinatown Walk became a sensation last February 18, where mall goers and visitors can take photos and take part in the (8) Lucky Rituals.

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It is strongly believed that anyone aspiring luck and prosperity should make a wish by tossing a coin at the Prosperity Pond beneath the Prosperity Tree. As seen in the second photo, the pond comes with a stronger fortune vibe because of the presence of the Dragon Tortoise statue. In Chinese tradition, the dragon tortoise combines two of the four celestial animals in the Feng Shui practice, combining the qualities of both the dragon for perseverance and valiancy and tortoise for its stability and steadfastness. In simpler terms, this mythical figure is the epitome example of wisdom and ambition and believed to bring good fortune in business and career.

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That is me taken this Saturday, Feb. 28 trying out the toss coin wish. My friend Anna took the picture.

Most people are familiar with the Maneki Neko Cat, which is often seen in entrances of Chinese shops. They say, the cat’s moving paw is seemingly inviting visitors to the store therefore bringing and attracting wealth, fortune and opportunities. The belief is that you rub the cat so its good luck charm can rub off on you as well.

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The catch for this one though is that it’s the big version, so the paw is not actually moving

Gongs are frequently seen in Chinese temples. It has always been associated to meditation with its sound that aids in the relaxation of the mind and soul, therefore giving serenity. It’s also believed that if you whip the Good Luck Gong, you are banishing evil spirits and negativity not just in yourself but in your surroundings.

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Kids posing with the Good Luck Gong

And there’s also the wishing crane. I’m not so familiar with this one though, which is why I wanted to try it so bad. Unfortunately, I don’t know how to fold a crane and just ended up getting already-folded cranes from the booth.

Cranes symbolize long life and luck. Japanese legends also tell that folding a thousand origami cranes is to make someone’s wish come true.

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The yellow one at the bottom photo is my very own crane. So I’m hoping, my wishes would come true.

Fu (Happiness), Lu (Prosperity) and Shou (Longevity) are called the Three Stars. They are are the gods of happiness, prosperity and longevity, which are the three essential attributes of a having good life. It is often found in ancestral shrines and Chinese homes. It can be likened to an altar in Filipino homes, where families say a prayer.

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The Three Stars

According to Buddhists, an incense signifies morality and immaculacy. In Chinese culture, lighting the first incense of the year grants a person’s New Year wish.

I remember everytime it’s All Soul’s Day, I light a number of incense and place them in a sand jar in front of the graves of my paternal grandparents and my father’s.

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The Buddha Shrine

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I forgot what this is called, but it’s also one of the popular lucky charms with coins in it often seen in Chinese shops.

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I was able to take photos in front of the Prosperity Tree and the Chinese ricksaw because it isn’t crowded anymore, as these were taken on Saturday, Feb. 28, and with the help of Anna.

There were also performances at the Lucky Chinatown Atrium, with singing acts including Kiss Jane, Silent Sanctuary, Hotdog, Cathy Go, James Reid & Nadine Lustre and Anne Curtis and hosted by Candy Pangilinan.

At 11:55pm, visitors were treated to a lion and dragon dance performance at the Lucky Chinatown Walk, an acrobat performance, forecast of the Year of the Sheep by Johnson Chua and the lighting of the first incense ritual.

Hua Mulan: A Children’s Musical from Kids Act Phils. were also performed on Sunday, Feb. 22. The children’s favorite story of Hua Mulan centers on family, sacrifice and courage.

The night ended with a grand fireworks display.

Other activities included in the succeeding days were Shin Lian Chinese orchestra performance, Chinese Opera, Feng Shui talk with Hanz Chua, Shaun – The Sheep Meet & Greet, Chinese school performance, Philippine Ling Namn High Pole Dance; and performances from Sitti Navarro, Sabrina, Myk Perez, Brad Go, Sheila Valderama, Richard Poon and Jose Mari Chan.

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The band Hotdog performing disco classics

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Silent Sanctuary playing their hits

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Kiss Jane performs “Lagi Na Lang”

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James Reid and Nadine Lustre bring in the “kilig” for the Chinese New Year celebration

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Anne Curtis performing in red

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Food for the day wasn’t Chinese though, but still with Chinese influences. Since the Chinese New Year countdown fell on the same day as Ash Wednesday, which means eating meat is prohibited. I ordered Shrimp & Tofu from ThaiCoon, which I hope would have more branches in SM Malls as I always have to go to Lucky Chinatown for Thai food.