PH actress Nats Sitoy topbills Japanese manga film
Apart from Jake Zyrus, another Filipino artist, Nats Sitoy, has bagged a leading role in a mainstream Japanese film, Keisuke Yoshida’s “Itoshi No Irene” (“Come on Irene”), which is based on Hideki Arai’s 1990s manga series.
People may scratch their heads and ask: “Nats who?” But indie insiders know her well, because she has appeared in such films as “Soap Opera” (Cinema One Originals 2014), “Swap” (Sinag Maynila 2015), “Bagahe” (Cinemalaya 2017) and “Pinay Beauty” (Pista ng Pelikulang Pilipino 2018).
In 2016, Nats, then known as Natileigh Sitoy, won best supporting actress at the Cinema One Originals for “Lily.” She also acted in Brillante Ma Mendoza’s 2018 Netflix series, “Amo.”
It’s quite a varied filmography, but it was serendipity that sealed the deal for Nats when it was time to audition for the plum part.
The young actress recalled that she had undergone two sets of tryouts for the manga film. “First was with [coproducer] Bianca Balbuena in May 2017. We had to do a video audition. Then, for the call back, the Japanese representatives were already present.”
When she entered the room, the Japanese reps started whispering to each other, she recounted. “They asked so many questions. I was in the room for 30 minutes or so. Then, they approached me and checked my face.”
Later, she learned that the Japanese staffers were amazed by her uncanny resemblance to the Irene character in the manga books.
To prepare for the role, she did research while in the Philippines and conducted interviews when she arrived in Japan. “I really studied Irene’s personality—from her appearance to her traits,” she explained. “I made sure my skin was darker, and I gained weight because I was supposed to be an 18-year-old.”
Nats, who took up filmmaking at the DLS-College of Saint Benilde, described her screen alter ego as “innocent, bubbly, happy-go-lucky.” But because of her love for her kin, she agreed to marry a total stranger and relocate to a foreign land. “She will do anything for her family.”
The film was shot in Niigata, Japan, two hours away from Tokyo by bullet train. Filming was divided into parts: summer (July 2017) and winter (January 2018).
She remembered the shoot as a blast. “The Japanese seemed very serious at work. That was when the Irene in me came out. Kinukulit ko sila! (I joke around with them!)”
For the winter leg of the shoot, she brought along bottles of vitamins to Japan. “The staffers also bought winter outfits for me, to keep me warm because they knew I was not used to that kind of weather.”
In one wintry scene, she had to carry her screen husband’s mother, played by Hana Kino, on her back. “I braced myself for that shoot. I worked out in the gym for weeks before I went back to Japan.”
She had nothing but praise for her director. “Keisuke is the type of filmmaker who lets his actors explore their characters. Sometimes, I would get tense whenever he told me that I should just enjoy myself. He knew what he wanted in each shot, and he worked quickly.”
In spite of the language barrier (she always had a translator with her), she didn’t encounter any hassle on the set. “They were all professional. When the actors arrived on the set, they were already in character. And they were always helpful.”
It hardly comes as a surprise that she plays a mail-order bride in the movie. But instead of the usual whimpering martyr, Nats imbued her character with something extra. Or as Japan Times critic James Hadfield describes Nats’ “empathetic performance”: “Irene suggests a keen intelligence at work … she’s the only character who commands much sympathy.”
The warm reception makes Nats ecstatic, of course.
“From time to time, I check the reviews, which have been positive so far,” she remarked. “I also get messages from our countrymen who have seen it and are super happy for me.”
The film opened on Sept. 14, and last week, she traveled to Tokyo to grace screenings for the Filipino community. “I am nervous and excited at the same time.”
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