By Ibarra C. Mateo
The few serious Filipino scholars of Japan, those who started studying Japan in the 1970-1980s when it was not yet in vogue to do so, are dwindling.
They are approaching “decommissioning” (otherwise known as retirement), dying, or dead.
And by serious, I mean those who have devoted at least two decades of their lives focusing on Japan deeply, quietly, and earnestly. There are those who present themselves as “Japan hands” after completing their two- or three-year graduate degrees in a Japanese academic institution.
It takes a lifetime to understand Japan and its people.
Director Lawrence Fajardo’s recent shift to craft films about Filipinos in Japan (Imbisibol, 2015; Kintsugi, 2020) is a great development in view of the vanishing species of serious Filipino scholars on Japan.
Fajardo, hopefully, considers directing more films about Japan, its society, and how contemporary Japan “behaves and relates” with the outside world. It is about time that the Philippine film sector produces a writer-director who can be at par with the achievements of Professors Lydia N. Yu-Jose (political science and Japanese Studies) and Rico T. Jose (Philippine-Japan war history), the towering wife-husband pillars of Japanese Studies in the Philippines.
The low-key Fajardo, 44, one of the more intelligent writer-directors of his generation, is known for making films with cogent social commentary. Among his most notable films are: Kultado (2005); Raket ni Nanay (2006); Amok (2011); and Imbisibol 2015).
More than a love story
In the 91-minute drama “Kintsugi” (Broken), Fajardo’s full-length entry to the ongoing Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2020, the director uses the elements of a love story as a vehicle to take the viewers to a journey of scrutinizing the nuances and complexities of familial and social relations in a community in Arita town, famous for its porcelain industry, in Saga Prefecture.
Kintsugi is Fajardo’s maiden jab in the love story genre and his second film about Filipinos in Japan, after Imbisibol in 2015.
Initially, Fajardo frames Kintsugi as boy Dante, an overseas Filipino worker (played by JC Santos) meets girl Harue, only daughter of a porcelain factory owner (Hiro Nishuichi). The fell in love as Harue tries to recover from a break-up with his unfaithful partner, while Dante is burdened by constantly remitting money to the Philippines to support his wife who has been in a hospital for four years.
As their relationship bloomed, Dante continues to hide from Harue his wife’s condition. One day, he flies back to the Philippines, without saying goodbye to his boss and Harue.
The two lonely people did not end up happily. Harue’s father tells her that Dante has a wife back in the Philippines. But the disclosure was incomplete. Harue’s father failed to inform her that Dante’s wife is dead.
Harue is once again broken by a two-timing lover.
From this point, the film goes in another trajectory: Harue becomes a metaphor for a broken precious porcelain ware that must be repaired through kintsugi. She needs to piece back together shards of herself.
The Japanese art of kintsugi (kin = gold and tsugi = “to repair” or “to join together”) involves the use of lacquer resin to join the broken pieces together and to fill in the cracks. Then, liquid or powdered gold is applied over the repaired fissures to highlight them beautifully.
Some say kintsugi is a Japanese metaphor for accepting one’s flaws and personal imperfections.
There are those who hold the view that kintsugi as an art form evolved from the Japanese concept of “mottainai”, regretting that something is wasted and “mushin” to embrace the inevitability of change as individuals go through life.
Kintsugi boasts of understatedly elegant photography and splendid color grading.
The film is the second collaboration between Fajardo as director and Herlyn Gail Alegre as scriptwriter. ##
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