Burgeoning Philippines-based director Mikhail Red has gained a devoted following after delivering a succession of powerful films in just a few short years.
In addition to establishing Red on the festival circuit – it has been regularly scheduled by the Tokyo International Film Festival – its footage has been acquired by Netflix. And Red is filming part of the HBO “Halfworlds” series.
The title of his latest effort is taken from the name of a Japanese bolt-action rifle dating from World War II. And while the “Arisaka” account is more contemporary, the references to the brutal past are quite clear. The protagonist, a policewoman, is on the run and escapes capture by getting lost in the desert that was the scene of Bataan’s infamous death march. In Red’s mind, history has a nasty habit of repeating itself.
But “Arisaka” hardly took place, as production was affected by COVID and natural disasters.
Variety: Explain how you almost blew yourself up?
Red: “It was a shoot in 2020, and we were one of the first Filipino feature film productions to try to do it all in the midst of the pandemic. We are therefore constantly adapting to all new guidelines and protocols.
“The typhoons that hit us in October and November 2020 were powerful typhoons that made international headlines. But it was too much for us to turn around as we were there when it happened.
“The hardest part about this movie is that it’s a very short and simple story that unfolds in just a few days. All this variable weather was a challenge to maintain continuity. We were shooting an action for three days that would take place in a few minutes.
How do you describe and present the image?
“I describe it as a western. Also, as a survival thriller. He follows the point of view of a police officer who survived an ambush. She is pursued by other police officers and must hide in the wilderness of Bataan. This is the same area where the [WWII] The death march took place and where many prisoners of war tried to escape their Japanese captors. They were hiding in the forest and sometimes they never made it out. To this day, relics and remains are still found in these forests.
“My story takes place in the present, but there are certain elements in the film that parallel this part of the story. Only this time we have more local antagonists. There is the present and the past together.
“It’s not as heavy on dialogue as my other movies, and it’s simpler. And there are genre elements, since this is a thriller. There are action sequences. , but (overall) it’s a very quiet dark movie. With a lot of contemplative moments. We’re still in this character’s psyche and because she struggles to survive in this harsh environment and he doesn’t. there aren’t many people to talk to.
Is this an anti-Japanese film? How is it going in competition in Tokyo?
“It’s not anti-Japanese. It’s more anti-oppressor. And there is this parallel of being chased by people. To say more would be a spoiler, but the protagonist begins to understand what the Filipino soldiers had to go through to survive the authorities when they were prisoners of war (during WWII).
“There is also an element of the natives of Bataan that we shot with the real Aeta community. And there were a lot of non-professional actors. I hope this is something that will surprise the public. We have a very powerful first performance by a woman from the Aeta community.
“This time, the Philippine authorities are the modern day invaders. Since then the Aeta have been struggling with their land, they have witnessed war and now things are starting again. “
When is “Arisaka”?
“We do not specify. I always like to put movies somewhere in the mid-2000s, when I’m doing thrillers, for storytelling purposes. In an age when you don’t have cell phones and internet connections in remote areas. This is also why “Birdshot” took place in the early 1990s.
“It’s also loosely based on a current event where there was a police erasure [execution]. The Atimonan massacre in 2013. It happens a lot [in The Philippines] that there are two opposing police entities; they have to do a scrub where they knock out another band because it gets too much or they interfere with a chord gone bad.
What are the sales and distribution plans?
“Raven Banner in Toronto is handling sales and we hope to be able to announce a North American distribution later in 2022 in November. But we will also continue to follow the festival route and submit to a few more festivals early next year.
“With the theaters here opening slowly – I think the Philippines is one of the last countries to reopen theaters – it’s going to be a while before this movie hits the big screen. All of the first movies in theaters are (delayed) Hollywood superhero movies and other Hollywood titles.
“Entry to Japan from the Philippines is still restricted, so I was unable to attend. It’s sad because I’ve been going to Tokyo since my first movie “Rekorder”. “Birdshot” won in the Asian Future section. Now, I have made enough films to qualify for the main competition, but COVID has arrived. I am still honored and excited that the film has been selected.
“Tokyo has always supported my work. But, we could still get a theatrical release in Japan after the festival.
“For the future, I am working with the same production company TEN17P. They gave the green light to “Arisaka” before the pandemic. But they still continued and had to learn the ropes to bring COVID protocols into production. The company is very director-oriented. And by next year, maybe we’ll be working on another movie called “Final Rites” again.