YIDFF 2009 New Asian Currents
Green Rocking Chair
An Interview with Roxlee (Director)

Family, History, Film—“The Baybayin Writing System Is Like a Work of Art”

Q: Please tell us about the relationship between the written languages and the history of the Philippines.

R: The Baybayin writing system was used by Filipinos before they were colonized by Spain. The Spanish introduced Christianity and the Roman alphabet. To exercise their influence, they forced the written languages that Filipinos originally used into obsolescence.

Q: There was a scene where the alphabet of the Mangyan tribe was being taught. Is the Mangyan writing system still used in parts of the Philippines?

R: Mangyan and Baybayin are very similar, but a little different. Baybayin is hardly used at all, but Mangyan is still in use. Baybayin is the true original written language of the Philippines. When I started making the film, I thought about searching for Baybayin as it was the written language that was originally used, but part of the way through I learned that the similar Mangyan writing system is still being used, and so I became interested in that too.

Q: What kind of connection is there between the scenes with the KKK [Katipunan] and the ones about these writing systems?

R: KKK [Kataas-taasan Kagalang-galangang Katipunan ng mga Anak ng Bayan, “Supreme and Venerable Society of the Children of the Nation” in English] is the abbreviated name of an underground resistance movement that fought the Spanish. In a way, the Filipinos beat the Spanish in the 19th century. That’s to say, they were unable to completely eradicate Baybayin, and it is still found in some places to this day, surviving.

Q: So that’s how it relates to [Filipino nationalist] José Rizal . . .

R: That’s right. He produced various writings and pictures in defiance of the Spanish. To symbolize Rizal, a man appears waving a KKK flag. The original story for the animated sequence featured in the film, “The Monkey and the Turtle,” was written to oppose the Spanish, and it symbolizes the relationship between Spain (the monkey) and the Philippines (the turtle).

Q: Your previous films were mostly abstract or about things of personal interest to you, and purely animation. For this film your focus was reflecting on history, and this surprised me. Also, by mixing the writing systems and the unique history of the Philippines with family episodes throughout the film, it seemed you were attempting to comprehend the history as your own, and as part of yourself. Why did that kind of perspective emerge?

R: My work is certainly changing in that way. You understand it very well, including what I am doing now. So much so that there’s no need for me to explain any more than you have already.

Q: I hear that you spent two years filming, and this is an unprecedentedly long film for you, exceeding one hour. I sensed that you had a strong motivation that can’t be completely explained by the fact that you now have a family of your own, but is that the case?

R: I’ve definitely been inspired significantly by my family. My desire to make a new film sprang from having a family. So my son also appears in the film. In addition to that, I was also heavily influenced by the Baybayin language itself. The first time I saw it, I thought it was like a work of art. It’s for that very reason that I also made the animated sequence using it. Its curves and form alone seem very beautiful to me. And that’s why I made this film.

(Compiled by Shiba Katsuhiro)

Interviewers: Shiba Katsuhiro, Masuya Shoko / Interpreter: Arai Yuka / Translator: Don Brown
Photography: Sasaki Tomoko / Video: Morito Satoko, Murayama Hideaki / 2009-10-12