The Barefoot Baklesa always had an opinion about a certain solitary image of a female saint in my mother's hometown that doesn't join the Easter Sunday morning procession and ritual called the Salubong, or locally known in Kinaray-a as Sugat. For the non-Filipino reader,the Sugat or Salubong is a uniquely Filipino practice that re-enacts the meeting of the Resurrected Christ and the Blessed Virgin Mary from certain apocryphal traditions. It's an outdoor activity that happens before first light of Easter morn, when children dressed as angels sing the story of Easter, highlighted by the meeting of the images of the Virgin Mary and the Risen Christ, the former removed of her black veil of mourning and crowned gloriously. My point rather, after over-explaining again, is that the procession of Easter morning is probably the most important of the holy week processions -and to miss it, would defeat the point of why we celebrated Lent in the first place. Now, in some towns, they don't really require the solitary images to come out for the Salubong, but not in my Mother's hometown.
There's something magical about waiting for the sun to rise on Easter Morning, and I would not miss it for anything. While the rest of Gay-dom have been baking in the sun at Boracay and the hedonistic capital of Gay Philippines called Puerto Galera, the Barefoot Baklesa chooses to spend his Easter differently. Hehehehehe!!!
As we had our family breakfast after taking home Saint Mary of Bethany from the church, we felt Easter in the smiles and raucous laughter that rang through the house. My grandmother, turning 94 in a few days, had the best smile in the house; and that was worth more than any beach retreat.
It's Holy Week once again, and I have arrived at my ancestral Province of Antique last Holy Tuesday. While a majority of us are looking forward to the vacation that has been associated with Holy Week nowadays -counting everyone who can make the journey scampering to Boracay, Galera, or Subic, there are some of us who are busy with our obligations to the church. Especially those who are responsible for taking out the processional images for the Holy Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday Processions. It's not easy, but it's a fulfilling activity for me. Here's hoping this year's Holy Processions run smoothly.
This being the first movie review I have for 2011, the Barefoot Baklesa has found it quite fitting that he should discuss "Departures" [the irony there is so obvious it will hit you an Alanis Morisette cover].
Winner for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2009 Oscars, "Okuribito" or Departures was Japan's entry that won over a hundred or so other entries. Of course, my personal bet, Thailand's "The Love of Siam" never even made it to the top four as well as that Filipino entry -the title of which escapes me.
"Okuribito" [Departures] is a cinematic journey of a man whose dreams never came to fruition and how he was thrust upon a path that the fates somehow made him destined to take. Now, some of you might actually go, "Oh, choice that's supposed to be life-altering turns out to be the hand of fate -that's soooo Asian cliche", but I guess one has to have a certain understanding of the current zeitgeist of Japanese cinema to have an appreciation for them; and "Departures" seems to be a good movie to start with.
Kobayashi Daigo, a cello player finally lands a spot in an orchestra only to have his career as a professional musician cut short when the orchestra owner decides to disband them. Out of options, he decides to sell his newly acquired top of the line cello and asks his wife, Mika, to move to the house his late mother left him in the country hoping to start anew.
Daigo and Mika start their new life in the country just as fall gives way to winter -kind of fitting if you ask me. Looking for work, Daigo chances upon a newspaper ad for a job description that says "helping out journeys". Assuming that it was for a travel agency, Daigo applies for the job at the NK company only to realize that NK stood for NouKan which translates to "Encoffining". Just like that, the hand of fate deals him a misprint that should have said "to help with peaceful departures", he finds himself taking the job with the Boss' persuasion to give it a shot because fate might have led him there.
Now, I am about to go on here like I usually do, so be prepared:
As you watch the movie, you are drawn into this world of silent ritual that defines the act of "Encoffining". It did not seem in any way romanticized but the importance given it by the imagery presented in the film did not feel like a demonstration video or documentary but they give the act of the Encoffiner the credit and dignity it deserves. For the stigma that goes with working with the dead is the same in this culture as it is theirs [We've heard many a joke cracked about the embalmer that bathes in formalin and looks like the living dead in this country].
The job of the Encoffiner is to cleanse, dress, and put make-up on the deceased before they are encased in the coffin for cremation. They take great care in ensuring that the dignity of the dead are kept intact by not allowing the skin to show as they are cleansed and dressed in traditional robes for their final journey; a job originally done by the family of the deceased, the Encoffiner appeared as an alternative to doing it themselves in their moment of grief. And like many things done with ceremonial respect in Japan, this is one to pay attention to.
The act, or call it art of Encoffining itself throughout the film tells its own story as it is woven with Daigo's own troubles of having to deal with the stigma of being labelled "filthy", hitting close to home when his own wife leaves him after discovering the true nature of his work which he had kept from the start, feeling like he must pay for missing his mother's own funeral by experiencing funerals over and over, and bearing the baggage of having been abandoned by his father when he was a boy. Thinking about it now, Daigo seems like a game board peace that stepped on a game square that said "back to square one" midway. With the Boss Encoffiner as sensei [teacher/master] is this enigmatic character that works with the dead, he teaches Daigo a different view of death and life with his own gritty humor that the living should eat well and that the living really do have to eat off the dead. Morbid, I know...yet you gotta watch him to understand.
And if music does fuel a part of the soul, the music in this film stirs mine to such effect that as the seasons sweep to their cinematic pace, I felt some out of body experience as I just let myself take everything the movie throws my way. The movie has ways of making you shed your pre-conceptions about it. For as there is this Zen philosophical statement looming over it, it is never presented in a brutal in-your-face-lecturing-you manner but in small revelations that make you go "Aaaahhhhh..."
The thing I take from this movie as the final credits roll, is that in our immortal soul's journey, we must acquire happiness in their forms tangible and intangible, cling to them, and must give them more weight and value no matter how small or brief they may be. For in our departure, grief is inevitable, but there are many other things to celebrate in this existence and the next.
I must say, this is probably the best McDonald's commercial I have seen in like ever!!! They hit the proverbial advertising nail on this one. Now part of me wants a boy and boy version of this.... [sniggers at a corner]
Here's a little something from a century ago that we as artists keep forgetting in our quest to please and sell:
"My attitude toward all this is that a true artist who believes in his art and his mission must necessarily be altogether insensible to praise or blame. If he is not a mere sham, he cannot be disturbed by any caricature or exaggeration. He has the truth on his side. And the opinion of the whole world should be of no consequence to him."
to which I add this video from the musical Title of Show called Die Vampire Die! It's a song I go back to when I am consumed about certains doubts I have about the endeavors i undertake.
just look at the lyrics:
Die Vampire Die!
Susan: There are some people in the world who say that writing stories, or composing music or dancing sparkly dances is easy for them. Nothing interferes with their ability to create. While I celebrate their creative freedom, a little part of me just wants to punch those motherfuckers in the teeth. This song, I sing this song for you guys and for all the rest of us. Help me out y’all Backup: We’ll sing backup Susan: You have a story to tell, a novel you keep in a drawer. Backup: Old sock drawer! Susan: You have a painting to paint, but you lazy like an old French whore Backup: Je suis whore Susan: You have a movie to make, Shrinky Dinks you can bake but you best grab a stake, cause, in sweep the vampires, in creep the vampires, knee deep in vampires, Filling you with doubt. Insecurity, ‘bout what you art should be in sweep the vampires All: Die vampire Susan: You sketched that turtle you saw in an ad on late-night cable TV Backup: Tippy Turtle! Susan: But your fourth grade teacher said Female Backup: You can’t draw Susan: Aww, those vampires just won’t let you be Backup: Fuck you Ms. Johnson, Word! Susan: And when they come run like hell, see those bats in your belfry, then call on Van Helsing. Susan: In swoosh Backup: Ooh, the vampires Susan: in a whoosh Backup: ooh, the vampires, Susan: Babaganoosh Backup: ooh, all the vampires Susan: Filling you with thoughts of Backup: Self consciousness Susan: Feelings of Backup: Worthlessness Susan: They’ll make you Backup: Second guess Die vam- All: -pire! There are so many vampires, inside, outside, and nationwide, it helps to recognize them with this vampire hunting guide! Listen closely, a vampire is any person or thought or feeling that stands between you and your creative self expression, but they can assume many seductive forms. Here’s a few of them! Backup: Tell us Susan! Susan: First up are you pigmy vampires. They’ll swarm around you head like gnats and say things like: Male Backup: Your teeth need whitening Female Backup: You went to state school? Male Backup: You sound weird All: Shakespeare, Sondheim, Sedaris Susan: Did it before you and better than you, or they might say that you cannot sing good enough to be in a musical, or they might say: Backup: Ooh, your song’s derivative, Ooh, your song’s derivative, Ooh, your song’s derivative,
Susan: To keep that song from you! Just tell them: Backup: Die vampire, die! Susan: Brothers and sisters, next up is the air freshener vampire, she might look like you mama, or your old fat-ass, fat aunt Fanny. She smells something unpleasant in what you’re creating. She’ll urge you to: Backup: (Spraying sound) Susan: It with some pine fresh smell ’em ups. The air freshener vampire doesn’t want you to write about Backup: bad language, blood, or blow jobs Susan: She wants you to clean it up and clean it out. Which will leave your work toothless, gutless, and crotchless but, you’ll be left with two tight paragraphs, All kittens that your grandma would be so proud of. You look at that air freshener vampire in her fat ass, fat old fuckin’ face and you say All: Morte Vampir Morte Susan: The last vampire is the mother of all vampires and that is the vampire of despair. It’ll wake you up at 4am to say things like: Backup: Who do you think you’re kidding? You look like a fool. No matter how hard you try, you’ll never be good enough Susan: Why is it that if some dude walked up to me on the subway platform and said these things, I’d think he was a mentally ill asshole, but if the vampire inside my head says it, It’s the voice of reason. Backup: You have a story to tell, pull your novel out of that sock drawer! You have a painting to paint, you best paint it and then paint some more!
Susan: Oh baby, you must escape and grab it by the nape of its neck, by the trachea fuckin’ break it, go on drive a stake in, Yeah there’s no mistaking, now you’re shake and bakin’ All: Die, vampire I said, “Die, vampire” I said, “Now die vam-pi-re, die!” All: In fly the vampires, oh my the vampires, then die the vampires, filling you with life, creativity, all that you heart should be, out go the vampires Die vampire, die vampire, die vampire, die!
It's that time of the Roman Catholic Liturgical Year once again, fellow barefoot walkers... I know I've been negligent about posting and maintaining this blog since the year began. Busy is the understatement of the year. It seems like since the first week of January, work and other stuff just piled up one after the other [didn't I say this somewhere before? or is it here?] with Theater Down South, Jesus Christ Superstar,and the book were trying to finish. And in the middle of all that, I find it weird that I had some time to procrastinate.
But, seeing as the Barefoot Baklesa often loves to make a public display of some of his projects, allow me to brag about this year's Carroza Challenge. Ever since I decided to join the Holy Week Processional Line-up at my ancestral province of Antique a few years back, I had always felt that it was going to be a work in progress, that a lot of things need some ironing out, if the words serve, what you would call what we had to in terms of the rebulto, the carroza, and the logistics of it all.
It's almost four years now since the first Niki de los Reyes-Torres Carroza challenge, an my cousins and I have been going at it, sometimes barely making it by the skins of our teeth. But I'm thankful for their help.
I would like to acknowledge someone who has been of great help to us lately especially with the repairs made to the visage of Santa Maria de Betania: a dear friend we fondly call Djaja.By leaps and bounds, Djaja can run ten circles among the Santeros and devotees of our generation. His collection of Marian and Lenten processional images, though noted for their beauty, are for him objects that reflect his true devotion and not as oversized dolls to be displayed ~which some other image owners, mostly homosexual, are guilty of by my observation.
This year's Carroza Challenge would not have been if not for Djaja's help in assuring that the image of Santa Maria de Betania would not return to Antique if it did not bear the visage it richly deserves. In the spirit of camp, the original rostro had to undergo a major major makeover complete with new hands and repainting. Also with Santa Maria de Betania was an image of Saint Joanna the wife of Chuza, which was originally a salvaged image of Our Lady of the Snows from Leyte that we had converted to Santa Juana de Cuza. Both are pictured within this posting. Thank you, Djaja!
And so, I leave you with this for now. I'll save my fangs for another post.