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What do you want? I finally ask Tak Takahashi.
My mother’s a Japayuki.
So your mother and I have nothing in common, I say.
Not true. Tak Takahashi shakes his head. Not true at all. A Japayuki is an entertainer abroad.
I am a writer here, I affirm. She a junkie?
You’re abroad. And, no, she’s not.
Do you want to kill her?
Sometimes, he says. She dances for money. Some men offer money for sex. Sometimes it’s simpler. My mother fell in love with her client, a business man. She got pregnant and out I came. It’s the same story. You go abroad and find what you were never looking for. For your parents, it’s the same.
But the States—
You’re here, are you not? Confused. Not knowing who you do things for.
It’s true, I think to myself, but I’m also here to fall in love again.
Your work, continues Tak Takahashi, speaks to this dynamic boldly.
So what’s your best offer? I ask.
We’re anticapital, he says. Guerrilla film. People-oriented. Issue-oriented.
Then how does your work speak at all?
We have international distribution through the black markets. Burned vcds, dvds, vhs cassettes. And the Internet. Young Filipinos in Canada are forming their own little subversive film culture.
Why not create something for everyone? I ask. Not just a specific circle of elitists.
Have you sold anything yet? he laughs.
The bus stops. While the nuns leave to relieve themselves, vendors swarm the aisles. A man with a raspy voice recites, Peanuts pop soda chicharon spicy!
We want to shoot your film, says Tak Takahashi.
Peanuts pop soda chicharon spicy!
If it’s about telling the story, Tak Takahashi suggests, then it’s about telling it, di ba?
I tell him I’ll get back to him. He buys me a soda and says goodbye. The back of his shirt is soaked with sweat.
People like Tak Takahashi think films can speak from below. But how do you speak when someone else has their foot in your mouth?
And I thought I was a visionary.
8. showtime is god’s time
Sid David names the show begins—Because Generosity Is Never a Sin.
It’ll grab the attention of the poor and the churchgoers, he claims.
The set is minimal. There’s a hexagonal chrome stage and blue wooden bins full of props: baseball bats, tin cans, soda bottles, wigs, ceramic religious figurines, whiffle balls, clothes from what Sid David calls his “suede phase.”
Standing center stage is Chazrick Villarosa—in a tuxedo jacket and dark jeans—alongside the lovely Reese De Verdad, who wears a slim-fitting white gown. I stay offstage. The masses have yet to enter. The digital timer is set to zero.
The idea, says Sid David, is to show that it doesn’t take much to laugh because life is funny, di ba?
Oo nga, replies Reese De Verdad, flaunting her native accent.
Chazrick practices: Mga kapatid, welcome to begins! Ready to laugh your troubles away?
There’s nothing special about his voice. He knows this isn’t it. His Tagalog is painful. I see it in his eyes, the way he squints as if his vision were imperfect, as if he’s having trouble seeing beyond a certain point.
I pull him aside. You sure about this?
Trust me, he says and holds my shoulders. Let go of Hollywood. People who make it here make it by different means.
Foundation whitens his face and his lips are dull pink. He’s paper. Yet he seems to trust himself. I wonder if it’s because of Reese De Verdad. I kiss his palm to let him know I still support him.
It’s not the pandemonium Sid David had expected. Generosity seems to have been equated with charity. And Manilans are sharper than that. Proud. Nonetheless, ordinary and extraordinary people pack the studio while the cameras roll. Street scents of exhaust, musk, and baby cologne add realness to the already real atmosphere: spare, colorless, not fit for Philippine television. I’m in the back of the audience. Crowds are less distressing when the people are almost dead.
The first team of contestants is branded the Slum Dwellers. Sid David’s rationale is that it’ll be easier for them to identify with their humble beginnings. Only, it’s a humble beginning, middle, and end. The competing team is appropriately dubbed the Squatter Villagers.
Pacing back and forth and hopping at each turn, Chazrick reads from a card. The first situation for the Slum Dwellers is (he pauses for suspense)…your girlfriend is sick of rice and bananas so you satisfy her hunger with something else. Go!
He leaps off the stage.
The timer counts down from one minute.
Fifty-one. A woman in a pajama top grabs a bat and pretends to beat the hunger out of the girlfriend. No one laughs save for Reese De Verdad’s shrieking.
Forty-three. A boy with a crooked Mohawk takes a whiffle ball and puts it back down. Thirty-six. The same boy tries to create fire by rubbing two Virgin Mary statuettes together. The crowd sniffles.
Nineteen. Eighteen. Reese De Verdad violates the rules and joins in. She pretends to eat her hair.
Seven. Six. Five. Chazrick steps in and…
Four. Three. Two.
One. Time’s up.
In the end, the Squatter Villagers run away with P50,000. Money rains from the ceiling but no one chases it. While some crawl around, others catch the cash in their T-shirts. One man lets bills stick onto his perspiring forehead.
The bleachers wobble as the audience escapes.
Chazrick, clearly worn out, allows Reese De Verdad to close:
Join us again on B-E-G-I-N-S!