Brillante Mendoza’s Latest Film is About a Japanese Amputee’s Boxing Life in the Philippines

Award-winning Filipino director Brillante Mendoza is thankful that he finished shooting his newest film before the coronavirus pandemic struck. Otherwise, the lockdowns would have delayed filming since the movie was shot in three main locations: General Santos City here in the Philippines, and Okinawa and Fukuoka in Japan.

“The pandemic has cost us a lot—we lost people we know, workers are unable to earn—it affects everyone, not just us who are involved in filmmaking, the cinema. But I think this will awaken us in many aspects—to consider the safety and security of our workers, this is a reminder of the saying that no role is unimportant, that directors like us are nothing without those who work with us. It makes us realize that we are too small, that one virus can disrupt and halt everything,” Mendoza was quoted as saying in a recent interview. He is part of the film industry’s fundraising program to support workers displaced due to the COVID-19 crisis, especially those who get paid on a “per day” basis and “no work, no pay” scheme.

Japanese Actor Shogen said it was an honor to work with award-winning director Brillante Mendoza [photo from Shogen’s Instagram account]

His latest movie, which is scheduled to finish by June, is based on the story of  Japanese amputee boxer Naozumi Tsuchiyama, who started his professional boxing career in the Philippines. The film’s working title is “Gensan Punch”.  Tsuchiyama is played by Japanese actor Shogen, best known for his role in the 2019 film Okinawan Blue (Kokoro Odoru).

According to an interview published on Okinawan newspaper Ryukyu Shimpo, Shogen is friends with Tsuchiyama. In fact, the actor was the one who pitched the film to a Japanese film production studio. “I was drawn to Tsuchiyama because of his determination towards his dreams. I hope to connect Okinawa and Asia with this movie,” Shogen said. It was in Okinawa where the boxer spent his retirement.

Shogen is all praises for Mendoza. In one interview, he said, “I never thought I could make a movie with Director Brillante.  The experience in doing the movie is one that I will remember for a lifetime.” The actor had to go through rigorous training in boxing and live like a boxer for the role. He also went to see a woman with a prosthesis from under the same knee as the character he is playing to observe the struggle of using prosthesis.

Tsuchiyama got amputated below the ankle at the age of five. He started boxing in high school and studied at the Hiranaka Boxing School. Since boxers with prosthetic limbs are prohibited from joining the professional league in Japan, Tsuchiyama moved to the Philippines in 2006 to become a professional boxer and went back to Japan when he retired in 2015.

Japanese actress Kaho Minami plays Tsuchiyama’s mother and model Maaaya will make her film debut as his sister. They will be joined by Filipino actors Ronnie Lazaro and Beauty Gonzales. Brillante shot the Gensan scenes in January and moved to Okinawa during the third week of February before moving on to Fukuoka. The film is a joint production of Mendoza’s Center Stage Productions and Gentle Underground Monkeys.

Brillante Mendoza’s last film was “Mindanao“, which won the 41st Cairo International Film Festival’s awards for Best in Artistic Contribution and Best Actress for its lead star Judy Ann Santos. It also took home three major awards during the 45th Metro Manila Film Festival 2019: Best Director – Brillante Ma Mendoza; Best Actress – Judy Ann Santos Agoncillo; and Best Actor – Allen Dizon.

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