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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Dec 5, 2015

Tomodachi' Review: A Bitter Sweet Love Story Set In World War II From Director Joel Lamangan

DIRECTOR JOEL LAMANGAN’s latest movie, “Tomodachi”, is a beautiful love story about a Japanese officer (Jackie Woo, who produced the movie under his own company, Global Japan Productions) and a local lass (Bela Padilla) during World War II. Written by Eric Ramos, it’s meant to be a tearjerker and the bittersweet ending will surely bring tear to your eyes, what with the wonderful and touching performance of Shin Nakamura, the actor who played the older version of Jackie Woo.

The movie’s structure reminds us of the hit Hollywood three-handkerchief weeper, “The Notebook”, as the story moves back and forth from two time frames but with the same characters. The movie opens in 1943 with a shot of Jackie about to shoot himself in the head. Then it jumps to 1995. Eddie Garcia is seen fetching at the airport his old friend, Shin. It’s their reunion after not having seen each other for 50 years.

From there, the movie takes us to the town of Sta. Cruz in Cavite, before the war. Jackie as Toshiro is an itinerant vendor who sells his products from Japan around town. Lui Manansala is a “suki” and he teaches her how to cook his noodles, ramen. He meets her husband, Jim Pebanco, and children, Pancho Magno and Bela. Bela as Rosalinda quickly falls for him and her parents do not oppose their relationship. But the war breaks out and it turns out that Jackie is really a Japanese office, making their romance an ill-fated love affair.

Told with adequate period production design, good cinematography and a well paced narrative flow, the material is actually not new to Joel Lamangan, who has previously effectively told a tragic love story between a Japanese officer and a transwoman, also set amidst the Second World War, in “Aishite Imasu”. Even if there’s little chemistry between them, he elicits very competent performances from Bela (she gives an exuberant and enthusiastic portrayal of Rosalinda and it’s her best work to date) and Jackie, who’s really more effective in his scenes where he speaks in native Japanese than when he speaks in halting English or Tagalog.

The movie also gets superb supporting performances from Lui Manansala as Bela’s supportive mom, Pancho Magno as the younger Eddie Garcia (it’s his debut movie and he shows he has an easy but strong presence on the big screen) and Tony Mabesa as the town mayor and relative of Bela who’s vehemently opposed to her love affair with Jackie. But it’s still Mr. Nakamura, who we heard is a theatre actor in Japan, who gives the most moving performance as he manages to put a strong spin into his character even if he has limited exposure.

If this were produced by a bigger company with big name actors, “Tomodachi” would have better chances of being a box office blockbuster as its poignant love story with just the right amount of schmaltz will surely touch viewers who love this kind of lachrymal and sentimental material. But as it is, even with Jackie in it who has no box office clout locally, the movie still deserves to get a wider release in cinemas nationwide. v