fireflies, and other stories

Grave of the Fireflies


An air raid. A boy carries his baby sister on his back and sits in the shelter, away from the bombs. Their house is no more. Later, their mother dies. In the midst of the carnage, the fire, the charred remains of his neighbors, a man in a soldier’s uniform stands tall and screams, Long live the Emperor!

This is World War II through the eyes of two Japanese children trying to survive motherless, perhaps fatherless (their father fights in the Navy, under the flag of the Empire), months before their country’s unconditional surrender. How easy it is to forget that there are also victims on the side of the “enemy”. Grave of the Fireflies forces us to become witnesses, to mourn the unmourned. Brother and sister comfort each other, play as children play, in scenes tender and heartbreaking. Even the happy scenes – Seita and Setsuko playing in the beach, catching fireflies in their aunt’s backyard, cooking their own dinner – become unbearable in their sweetness. What consolation can one expect from a film that begins with the line, September 21, 1945 – this was the night I died? There is consolation, perhaps, in the fact that this story is told, that we are made to remember.

I watched it twice in one day – alone the first time, with my brothers the second time. The film rendered my brothers silent, stunning them. It was my second viewing, and yet I did not think that the intensity of the film was diminished. One of my favorite scenes: Seita tells Setsuko about a naval review he saw when he was still an only child; he remembers seeing his father’s ship, the Maya, in formation with the rest of the fleet. He says, in a soft voice, I wonder where Dad’s fighting now. Setsuko is silent. Seita turns and sees that she has fallen asleep, on the far side of their bed. Seita rolls over twice, puts his hand over his sleeping sister, pulls her close.

I believe my siblings and I agree that this has got to be the most powerful war film we’ve ever seen in our entire lives.


The Hangover

Setup: Doug is getting married, so his friends and his future brother-in-law take him to Vegas. They climb to the rooftop of Caesar’s Palace, make a toast, drink. They wake up the next morning. One of the recliners is burnt. Doug’s dentist friend is missing an incisor. There is a tiger in the bathroom. And oh, Doug is missing.

This film is fun. No, FUN – from beginning to end. Oh yes.

The Ocean Waves

What is it about certain Japanese animated films that make the cheesy palatable and bearable? If this were a live-action film, I’d definitely be gagging.

Simple and sweet, with nostalgia effectively conveyed. But during the first half of the film –

Me: I think this is yaoi.

Brother: Stop it. There’s a girl and a boy on the DVD cover.

Me: [Onscreen, Boy 1 says, “So why did you call me here? Didn’t you want to tell me something?” Boy 2 replies, “No. I just wanted to see you, that’s all.”] Did you hear that?

Brother: (worried) If this is yaoi we’d better watch something else.

Me: [Onscreen, a flashback.] Look at this, they’re alone in the room together, there’s a pretty piano piece on the soundtrack, a breeze just blew through the curtains.

Brother: Magtigil ka nga ano.

Me: [Onscreen, Boy 1 narrates, I began thinking of Boy 2, different from the way I think of my other friends] (to myself) Either I’m over-reading, or there’s something completely wrong with the subtitles.

It was not yaoi.

Me: *facepalm*

Me, later: It’s like the writers started out with yaoi and then lost their nerve. Seriously, the girl’s like an ornament.

Brother: …

Akane-iro ni Somaru Saka

I don’t know what the title means, but it’s a Japanese animated series, very short, less than 15 episodes. A brother and a sister come to realize that they may be in love with each other. Taboo what? I’m on episode 6, and my head is already aching.

In conclusion,

I want to learn Japanese. I have this rather silly notion that maybe just maybe it’ll be much easier to learn than French. Then maybe I’ll be able to watch Princess Mononoke and Grave of the Fireflies sans the dubbing and the English subtitles. Won’t that be grand.


you have got to be kidding me

So today I received an email from Free Press Lit Ed Sarge Lacuesta. The Subject line reads “when you’re on a roll…congratulations from the Philippines Free Press”. I smiled because I thought he has heard about the Palanca win and was just kind enough to send me an email and congratulate me.

Well, yes, he did send me an email to congratulate me, but for a different reason. The letter begins

Dear Eliza,

Greetings! I am proud and honored to inform you that you are a finalist at this year’s Philippines Free Press Literary Awards for your story entitled “An Abduction by Mermaids.”

Holy. Crap.

* * *
“An Abduction by Mermaids” is a short story I wrote back in 2008 (or late 2007,I’m not sure anymore, I have to find my drafts) (I used to date my drafts, hee), which appeared in the Free Press on April 26, 2008. No online copies, but I might post the full manuscript here one of these days. ;)

* * *

Now, let’s see. I need: a dress, some nice shoes, a date. Or, a companion with a camera. It’s the camera that counts.

I’m excited to finally meet Mr. Lacuesta in person. And the other finalists of course. Wonder if I know any of them.
* * *
I really need a camera.


We are appalled that Carlo J. Caparas has been declared a National Artist. We write furious essays denouncing the way Malacanang made a mockery of the selection process. We attend events to proclaim our outrage at the palace’s bizarre choice. Well we forgot something.

Who will explain to the average Filipinos—to whom ‘arts and culture’ is an alien concept that has no bearing on their daily lives, but to whom the name Carlo J. Caparas is familiar because they follow telenovelas based on his comic book characters—why he is not worthy of the National Artist award?

If we do not do this, then all our protests serve only to proclaim our intellectual superiority to Mr. Caparas—surely a sign of massive insecurity. Once again, we will be talking amongst ourselves.

The Uses of Outrage“, Jessica Zafra

* * *

The fact remains, however, that Mr. Caparas is unqualified for the award he received. He was named National Artist for Visual Arts and Film – he himself had admitted that he did not draw the art for his more than 200 graphic novels.

In that Media in Focus episode, Caparas pulls out his mural paintings (“na mahirap po gawin”) and shows them off. I can draw, you know, he says. Darn it, my baby brother probably has some old sketches somewhere at home. Must our family show that to the CCP and the NCCA and say, Look, he can draw, you know?

Major *facepalm* moment of the night.

Body of work, Mr. Caparas, body of work. You have your graphic novels, which you wrote but didn’t draw, and your films.

As for the “Film” side of this award, well, really, Madame President? Caparas over Dolphy? Really?

* * *

This is just insane. It’s like the President is going around, trying to figure out the segment of society she hasn’t pissed off yet. Oh, of course, she must have said, the artists!

Nominations to the National Artist Award are screened by the CCP and the NCCA. For the first time ever, the President dropped a nominee from the list and added not one but FOUR awardees, one of whom (Pitoy Moreno) did not even make the shortlist, and another (Caparas) who was never screened by the CCP/NCCA at all.

And if you’re thinking, So what? Award lang naman, wala naman yang silbi, hindi naman yan makakain.

Well, according to the NCCA:

The following privileges are provided to those conferred with the Order of National Artists:

  1. The rank and title of National Artist, as proclaimed by the President of the Philippines;
  2. The National Artist medallion and citation;
  3. Lifetime emolument and material and physical benefits comparable in value to those received by the highest officers of the land such as:

3.1. a cash award of One Hundred Thousand Pesos (P100,000.00), net of taxes for living awardees;

3.2. a cash award of Seventy Five Thousand Pesos (P75,000.00), net of taxes for posthumous awardees, payable to legal heir/s;

3.3 a monthly life pension, medical and hospitalization benefits;

3.4. life insurance coverage for Awardees who are still insurable;

3.5. arrangements and expenses for a state funeral;

3.6. a place of honor, in line with protocular precedence, at national state functions, and recognition at cultural events.

Lifetime emolument.

Taxpayers, there goes our money. Wave goodbye.

Well done, Madame President.

* * *

Postscript: National Artist for Cinema, Lino Brocka, once said that his desire was not to create the Great Filipino Film, but to develop the Great Filipino Audience.

mini-reviews, 5

First, second, third, fourth

Public Enemies


Ah, the 1930’s. The curly hair, the cigarette smoke, the jazz singer, the slow dance, the red, red lips. The outlaw, the girl that has to be got, the agent of the law. The stuff film noir is made of. The 1930’s meant all these things, and also the Great Depression, economic poverty so awful it actually required a name in uppercase. But in the cinema we don’t smell the dirty clothes, the stale breath, we don’t feel the heat. So even here, the Great Depression is beautiful. How cool John Dillinger and the rest of his men look in trenchcoats, with those hats, how stylish, how slick. This is not the History of John Dillinger; in the film, we learn nothing more than what he tells Billie. My father beat me up when I was a kid, and I’m into you. The film is about the chase, and the power of Dillinger’s mere presence. And why learn about his past? Why care? Dillinger says It’s not about where we came from, it’s where we’re going. The lines in the film are very calculated, very Hollywood. You’re toast, etc. Much like Clark Gable’s lines in Manhattan Melodrama, the last film Dillinger sees before he is shot to death. He’s living in a film, the people outside the police car shouting at him are fans, and so he waves. He has the right to say It’s not about where we came from, it’s where we’re going, and not be called cheesy.

G.I. Joe

What the world needs now is another film based on Hasbro toys. So sayeth Hollywood and here we are. I watched it just two days ago and I can’t recall much of anything, except Hot brunette Sienna Miller is hot. It’s okay, the special FX in some of the earlier scenes made me cringe (I mean seriously, can’t the producers spend more money?), but it’s, erm, well it’s an action film featuring the military, so it’s loud and it’s nuts. I thought the chase in Paris was fun.

It’s bearable. More bearable than the craptastic Transfomers 2, but far less fun than, let’s say, Star Trek, or even the first Transformers.

Channing Tatum can’t act. Watching his facial expressions not change is painful. Sienna Miller is so hot it’s painful.


Who Stole the Funny? by Robby Benson


Benson has directed episodes of shows like Ellen and Friends, so he knows his stuff. In this novel, he writes about director J.T. Baker, who has a son in need of a kidney transplant. Baker, who has moved away from Hollywood to teach and has vowed never to enter a soundstage again, is called forth to guest-direct the hit show My Urban Buddies (which is Friends, only on liquid Vicodin). If he succeeds in directing three episodes, he gets to renew his Directors’ Guild insurance and pay for whatever medical procedure his son needs. Who Stole the Funny? tells the story of a single week on and off the set of the Buddies show. On almost every page is a box, a word, and a definition for that word, in case you don’t speak Hollywood. For example, Baker is believed to be a passionate director.

The Passionate: Troublemakers. Loose cannons. Delusional shmucks who believe they can elevate the quality of the show. Passion in television is bad – very bad!

I had fun reading it. I’d like to see it on the big screen.


My concern for the day was our godforsaken fridge, which we couldn’t close anymore due to the ice in the freezer. I called up my landlady, asked her if she could send someone over to defrost the darn thing (or attack the darn thing with an ice pick – who cares, we just wanted to close the freezer).

She said: I’ll also have your letter sent over.

I said, Letter? And she said the letter was for me.

I remembered what Paolo Chikiamco said yesterday, and I went sort of numb.

* * *


I knooooow. Poetry! Never, never in my wildest dreams. :)

Below is the logo of the Palanca Awards. They say it’s like the Pulitzers of the Philippines. That sounds nice.


Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll go check how our fridge is doing.


Dear Jamby Madrigal,

I wasn’t there, but if this were true –


a bracelet supposedly handed out to people waiting for the Cory cortege

then you are utterly disgusting.

Sincerely (because it appears that you are not),