Production Company: Premiere International
Release: 18 November 1995
Length: 106 min.
Format: 35 mm
Director: Omori Kazuki
Executive Producer: Masuda Hisao
Producers: Sakura Kanji, Kuga Yumiko
Screenplay: Kitahara Yoichi, Omori Kazuki
Original Story: Ota Yasuyuki
Photography: Watanabe Makoto
Music: Terashima Tamiya
Art Director: Arthur Santamaria
Editor: Ikeda Michiko
Harada Hideyuki: Sanada Hiroyuki
Kathy: Sharmaine Arnaiz
Nikki: Lorna Torentino
Isomura Masami: Suzuki Kyoka
Isomura Takashi: Oe Senri
Manila Calling for Medic
They used to make a lot of American movies like Emergency Call. The samaritan male First World professional heads off to less civilized regions of the world to help the natives and learn about their culture, often with the assistance of a beautiful local girl.
Often due to the necessity to avoid miscegenation, the plots were more complicated than that.
But the overall mood celebrated the parental cultural imperialism of an America that only wanted the Third World to become free (for tourism and investment) and developed (and be like us).
Now that Japan has emerged as the global leader in foreign aid, it’s time for the Japanese movie industry to produce its own filmed versions of international do-goodism. Omori Kazuki’s Emergency Call could be worse in this regard. Its hero, a Japanese doctor who decides to dedicate himself to treating the poor in the slums of Manila, is not benevolent to begin with, exporting Japanese values from the start, but finds his calling through contacts with his Filipino coworkers and patients.
Hideyuki Harada (Sanada Hiroyuki), a former businessman who decided to stay in the Philippines and study medicine after being jilted by his girlfriend, can never satisfactorily answer the question he is perpetually asked by Filipinos: why practice medicine in the Philippines when, as every Filipina bar hostess knows, you can make a lot more money in Japan?
Overworked as an obstetrician in a hospital near Manila’s Tondo, the worst slum in the Far East, Harada is much more the world-weary cynic than the good samaritan.
It is only when he meets and falls for the stripper Kathy (Sharmaine Arnaiz), who introduces him to her world, that he begins to see the reality of the poverty around him and the humanity of those living within it.
It is then by breaking his last ties to Japan and forming a partnership with his socially dedicated Filipina colleague Nikki (Lorna Torentino) that Harada can become the self-sacrificing crusader.
It is this distance from Japan that is the film’s strong point. Helmed by a director with a medical degree, Emergency Call is based on the real life experiences of a Japanese doctor trained in the Philippines, Ota Yasuyuki, and filmed largely in English with a mostly Filipino cast on location in Manila. It is as much a Philippine as a Japanese film and perhaps that is what saves it from being overly condescending or sensationalistic.
But neither can it save it from being unrealistic and cliched. From the incessantly over dramatic camera movements to the MTV-like flashback scenes, Omori’s direction is competent but unoriginal, seemingly lacking the courage to break through the conventions of Japanese TV dramas and find a film form that can truly come to grips with the reality of Manila’s slums. If one wants to find about about what is really going on in Tondo’s Smokey Mountain, one would still be better off seeing a documentary such as Shinomiya Hiroshi’s Scavengers.
Reviewed by Aaron Gerow
Originally appeared in The Daily Yomiuri, 16 November 1995, p. 14.
Copyright 1995: The Daily Yomiuri and Aaron Gerow