Review by Sean Bugg
Rating: (4 out of 5)
Sunday, 10/16/2005, 5:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Lincoln Theatre
Japanese and Tagalog with English subtitles
TO CALL A MOVIE melodramatic is generally part of a critic’s everyday stock of insults, but in the case of Aishite Imasu 1941, it’s actually a compliment. What better way to tell a tale of political intrigue, unrequited love and secret transgenderism during the WWII Japanese occupation of the Phillipines?
The movie opens in the present day as Inya wakes from a nightmare of her wartime memories. Soon, she’s reliving those days as the town leaders ask for her cooperation in identifying the local heroes of the Filipino resistance. They are confused by the historical presence of Ignacio, who also appears in photographs as a woman, also named Inya.
The flashback story reveals a love triangle among three childhood friends, Inya, Edilberto and Ignacio. While Inya and Edilberto are in love, Ignacio harbors a love for Edilberto, which Inya accepts but doesn’t fully understand. A talented singer, Ignacio is in the midst of his first public performance — dressed as a woman — when the Japanese army arrives in their city. The army captain, Ichiru, takes an immediate shine to Ignacio, quickly renamed Inya, and pursues a relationship. The local resistance enlists Ignacio as a spy, and encourages him to pursue the relationship. Naturally, he falls in love with Ichiru, while the tensions of war devastate the people and country around him, and call his own loyalties into question.
What seems at first a somewhat ridiculous setup slowly resolves itself into an emotional and compelling story of love, betrayal and honor in wartime. War clichés abound — the massacre of innocents, the loss of love giving way to the pursuit of vengeance — but those clichés have power for a reason. In Aishite Imasu all those moments and emotions are played so high as to be almost over the top, but as events spiral toward Ignacio’s climactic decision, each of those notes seems almost pitch perfect.