For Yamamoto, Life Is by the Reel

Thursday, April 16, 1998

A husband who steals his dead wife’s body before it can be autopsied, a distraught mother who bites the ear off her newborn baby, and a yellow journalist who does a radio expose on the Japanese doctor for supposed discrimination against the Philippine people. Events like these that occur Omori Kazuki’s new film Emergency Call come straight from the life of Ota Yasuyuki, a Japanese who once practiced medicine in the Philippines.

But even though these experiences served as the basis for the semiautobiographical novel upon which the movie is based, Ota laughingly dismissed any equation between himself and the film’s hero, the altruistic Dr. Harada.

“I’d be embarrassed if someone thought I was really like him. I’m much more irresponsible,” confessed Ota, son of novelist Ota Ranzo. “If I was really trying to be a doctor for the poor, I wouldn’t write about it in a book.”

The disarming and nonchalant doctor-writer gives off a street-wise air not unlike that of the hero he created, but with a greater sense of reality. Like Harada, Ota decided to give up life as a salaryman to try to become the first foreigner to complete his medical studies in the Philippines. But his reasons for choosing the Philippines over Japan were far more down-to-earth than those offered for Harada in the film. Ota’s wife is a Filipina and Philippine medical schools cost a lot less than in Japan.

Putting down his experiences as an intern at the Jose R. Reyes Medical Center on paper was also in part a decision based on necessity. “First, I thought it’d make some money,” he jokingly admitted. But putting the events in his life was also a way of keeping in touch with the Japanese language.

Emergency Call, his first novel, was quickly picked up by a fellow doctor, director Omori, who always keeps an eye out for new medical stories. It then took only a year and a half to bring the book to the screen, with Ota himself helping out as a medical adviser and occasional Tagalog/Japanese translator on location in Manila. The resulting film, while straying slightly from the novel, is very much to the author’s liking: “It’s pretty cool,” he glibly admitted.

Although Ota has completed his internship and passed the Philippine medical exam with flying colors, since he is the first foreigner to study medicine in the Philippines, there is no legal precedent to give him a license in the Philippines. While he must fight in the courts for the right to practice his profession, Ota still hopes in his own personal to continue to be a small bridge between the Philippines and Japan.

By Aaron Gerow

Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 16 November 1995, p. 14.

Copyright 1995: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow