By Jon Verzosa

Last night, the Little Theatre at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines was hushed to precision as Adolfo Alix Jr’s 90-minute film Liberaćion opened its doors to a good 4-minute sequence of Japanese soldiers hustling towards a burrow with only a torch to guide us through the all-embracing pitch-black.

It was a long introduction scene and along with my fellow writer friends Ruel Mendoza and Alex Brosas, we were almost ready to get fractured by its mind-numbing Japanese barking (in absolute darkness) when the film abruptly opened to its black-and-white mien and led us all through the sullen story of Makoto, a soldier of the Japanese Imperial Army set in the Philippine mountains during the closing stages of World War II.

The stratagem of its plot is trouble-free:  A Japanese Imperial Army soldier named Makoto (played by comedian Jacky Woo) who cannot bring himself to believe Japan’s defeat in the Second World War even after listening to the broadcast of the voice of the Emperor Hirohito hides himself in the Philippine mountains. In his forest of subtle terror, he decides to resist despite efforts for him to surrender, thinking the war is not yet over. For a span of almost 20 years, he stumbles upon different conditions (and at least 60 diverse sounds of crickets and birds) that will test his guise and his faith as a Japanese soldier.



Japanese actor Jacky Woo gets serious in the film ‘Liberacion’




Also, the film, which illustrates the restrained love between the soldier and a local woman named Liway (played by the incandescent actress Mercedes Cabral) in and around the ghostly struggles of Makoto who made a hideout in this forest and made it his own undeviating home.

Liberaćion is subtitled in English and Japanese (three languages were used during the entire film; Japanese, English and Tagalog) but the most important tongue in this film is its internal language.  Although the representations of the characters are friendly to the eyes, the torment and the ravaging struggles, particularly of Makoto in hiding, were both infectious and exasperating.

The prolonged sequence of each scene, the harassing squeaks and forest noises (those damn kuligligs!) and the endless river shots that dodged my senses to think about all the frustrations I had to go through back in college made us, the audience, the genetic copy of Makoto himself.  Yes, it is a bum-burner but it was an effectual cinematic occurrence that evoked both time and space(s).  Furthermore, there is a big difference between being entertained and experiencing the entire film.  We, as an audience, succumbed to the latter even if it meant being in illusive pain.

The actors and the players were virtuous and the surface of its textured cinematography and editing were as potent as its fresh storyline but the real star of Liberaćion is the forest itself.  Perhaps filmmaker Adolfo Alix Jr mapped this in his instinctive frame of thought because it thrived in filtering the film’s very narrative pacing.

It is thoroughly visual and yet, we were all swayed away by its mercurial elegance.  I myself diagonally began thinking about my own scuffles as a writer and somehow channelled myself that nature, in all its capacity to both ruin lives and croon to serenity, is a witness to time and can endure change, opinions, war and post-war.  Also, it manifests edifying epiphanies and can inflict psychosis as the film pestered on us gladly.

NATURE clearly needs the respect that it deserves.

Catch Liberaćion at Cinemalaya.  It will remind you about the courage of conviction.

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