TOKYO — Arriving on the biggest red-carpet event in the Japanese capital, Bela Padilla surprised its organizer with a glamorous look that couldn’t be farther from her appearance in “Mañanita,” the lone Philippine entry in the main competition of the 32nd Tokyo International Film Festival (TIFF).
The Paul Soriano film made its world premiere here on Tuesday night, followed by a question-and-answer session with the director and the lead actress.
Yoshi Yatabe, programming director of the A-list festival, joined the Filipinos on stage, and in the opening minutes recalled how he was awed by Padilla’s beauty upon meeting her for the first time the night prior.
The enthusiastic anecdote drew laughs from the mostly Japanese audience members — a reaction that indicates they understood Yatabe’s fascination.
Only when Yatabe’s narration was translated into English did Padilla catch on. She managed a smile, then a “thank you,” not for the flattering words on her looks, but what those meant in relation to her performance in the film.
“Natawa ako kasi yesterday pa lang, sa red carpet, lumapit si Yoshi sa akin. Sabi niya, ‘You look so different!’ As in parang gulat na gulat siya!” Padilla told ABS-CBN News after the Q&A session. “Nakakatawa lang, but I’m happy kasi it means you were able to deliver a performance beyond yourself.”
In “Mañanita,” Padilla portrays Edilberta, a military shooter whose dismissal from service triggers an emotional downward spiral, compounding a long, inner struggle of forgiveness.
From start to finish, Padilla wears a prosthetic scar covering a side of her face and neck — which, during filming, posed an additional challenge as it was done in “one of the hottest recorded summers” in the country, she recalled.
As Edilberta, Padilla is decidedly unkempt, her wardrobe limited to baggy shirts when out of uniform. She’s sweaty and reeking of puke (a convincing depiction in one scene) after countless bottles of beer.
And then she takes on a journey that includes walking under noon heat.
“To be completely honest, noong pagka-pack up ng last day, nakahinga ako nang malalim, kasi sobrang bigat. Sobrang bigat emotionally. Sobrang bigat physically,” she said.
“I think baka kaya rin shinoot ni Direk Paul chronologically, para madala ko ‘yung pagod ni Edilberta para 'pag dumating na doon sa climax ng film, makapag-release talaga ako nang maayos,” Padilla added.
Despite the demands of the role, Padilla described the project as “very rewarding,” both on a personal level and as a milestone in her film career.
The Lav Diaz-penned story, she said, reminded her that, “Sometimes you have to humble yourself, or sometimes you have to realize that people are going through worse things than you, even when they don’t talk, even when they don’t say anything, kasi ang dami pala nilang pinagdadaanan.”
As an actress, Padilla considers “Mañanita’s” participation in TIFF as a “surreal” byproduct of her saying yes to a film that’s a drastic departure from her past undertakings.
Noting the script is only eight pages long, she said: “Actually, ito ‘yung pinakamahirap na movie na ginawa ko, walang dialogue, e! Puro tingin-tingin lang, puro mata lang.”
“I guess also when you step out of your comfort zone, it’s always a good and new experience,” she said.
One of those, which was a source of “kilig” for Padilla on the premiere night, was seeing Japanese subtitles on the right side of the big screen, beside her face — a sight that admittedly took some time to sink in.
Sitting at the center of a Japanese audience during the screening, Padilla said she has newfound appreciation for their “respect” for film. She pointed out that for the entirety of the two-and-a-half-hour runtime, “they were very attentive, they were very focused.”
“Grabe ang hanga ko sa Japanese audience. They’re so respectful. Walang nag-chi-chikahan, walang tulog. Talagang nanonood,” she said.
The audience members remained seated and quiet, too, as the end credits rolled.
“That’s such a big deal for me, because beyond myself, beyond Direk Paul, there were so many people behind this film. Their names deserve to be watched. I’m so amazed at the audience here,” Padilla said.
The warm reception for “Mañanita,” as well as the seven other Philippine films participating in TIFF, are a testament, at least for Padilla, that local filmmaking continues to thrive creatively, amid the debate coinciding with its centenary.
“I feel like we can hold our own. People really ask us questions, like proper questions. Sa screening, the reception was so good, and the audience had very intelligent questions. That means they’re interested in Philippine cinema.
“So maybe the question should go back to the audience. If people abroad can appreciate Philippine cinema, what are you not seeing? Maybe that’s the question we should ask,” she said.