In an entry in the previous incarnation of my blogging self, I argued, having watched all the eight entries, that Aishite Masu: Mahal Kita, 1941 (directed by Joel Lamangan) should have won the Best Picture in last year's Metro Manila Film Festival, and not the overrated Mano Po III: My Love (incidentally, directed by Lamangan as well). Julie L. Po, in behalf of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines, in a review dated 8 January 2005, thought the same:
Aishite Imasu is set in the town of San Nicolas in 1941 when Japan was spreading its wings over the archipelago. It is a story of a love triangle. A refreshing treatment of relationships, though, as it proved that true love doesn't have to be mushy.
The triangle involves Inya (Judy Ann Santos), Edilberto (Raymart Santiago) and Ignacio (Dennis Trillo). The three were childhood friends, caring foster siblings to each other. Inya and Edilberto would later marry each other; Ignacio, from the start, was in love with Edilberto.
Ignacio was gay, but was not hysterically gay. He was forced to cross dress to stand in for a singer in a town program. At this juncture, the Japanese commander of the occupying troops (Ichiru, played by Jay Manalo) saw Ignacio and was drawn to his feminine charm.
Edilberto convinces Ignacio to continue the game so he could be close with Ichiru and pass on information about Japanese plans to the Filipino guerillas. Love for Edilberto or love of country made Ignacio do it.
Before the Japanese occupied the Philippines, the struggle of peasants for land was gaining momentum. When the Japanese arrived, they shifted focus to fight the new invaders. They resisted Japanese rule through armed guerilla and propaganda tactics.
In the movie, Ediberto was part of the armed-peasant and -guerilla liberation movements. Inya and Ignacio were supporters, like majority of the townfolks.
As the personal relationship of Edilberto and Inya is spurred by tension due to his devout commitment to the guerilla movement, the relationship between Ichiru and Ignacio was developing to be romantic.
Amidst these developments is the intensifying guerilla attacks visavis the intensifying Japanese ferocity. The attack scenes were a military strategists' nightmare, but it showed the courage and determination of the Filipino freedom fighters. The graphic presentation of Japanese brutality would help us understand why, even after several decades, Filipinos of that era would run after any Japanese with a bolo.
Towards the end is the knock out battle between the Filipinos and the Japanese and the do or die dilemma of Ichiru and Ignacio. In the end, of the triangle, Inya was left as the only one standing. But their relationship with each other stood out as one of true love, bound by love of country.
The actors were good. Casting was perfect. Editing was neat. Production design was grand (by local movie standards). References to history were accurate. Taste is biased to ideological inclination. Aishite Imasu is the best picture of the MMFF2004.