Fri 21 September 2018

Of natto and balut: Halo-Halo House lives up to its name

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In sociology, culture is one of the core principles to understand society. The elements of culture – symbols, languages, values, beliefs, and technology – make us understand how things work. But what happens when two different cultures come across together? My answer is: It will be one heck of an experience.

Halo-Halo House, a Japanese TV drama by Nippon TV and AXON and aired in the Philippines via PTV 4, showcases not only Japanese culture but Filipino culture as well. As a sociology instructor, the show is interesting and cultural topics are my interest. The main character is a young Filipino wandered and this drama was shot entirely in Japan. The dialogues are in Japanese with a little bit of Filipino and English all throughout.

The main character of the drama, Jose de Asis (Paul Alvin Magsalin), went to Ichinomiya City to find Erika, a Japanese girl he met when they were young when Erika gave Jose a handkerchief to wipe his bloodied arm after he fell from a tree. Unfortunately, Jose was not able to get her full name and never returned her handkerchief. With only her nickname and handkerchief, the smitten Jose sets off to Japan to find Erika and was recommended to a share house (boarding house for Filipinos) to stay. In the share house, he encounters Haru, the elder landlady; Toko, a young female professional; Nabe, a public worker; and Hide, a college student and an aspiring writer. Jose and his housemates share and learn from each other and started to grow on each other as the drama progresses.

Posted by Halo Halo House on Saturday, January 16, 2016

After watching few episodes, I feel it’s refreshing, amusing and most importantly, exciting. While I’m honestly not familiar on the formula used by the Japanese in their TV dramas, this show is promising and educational. The idea of adding a historical segment after each episode gives viewers, especially Filipinos, a glimpse of Ichinomiya City’s rich and colorful culture. I think the choice of a suburban location was smart as it showcases both Japan’s traditional and modern culture. Compare with heavily westernized Tokyo, Kyoto, and Nagoya, Ichinomiya City is a better choice. The show’s pacing mighty be fast but its message and theme are neither lost nor compressed.

For first timers, the choice to cast the nondescript Paul Alvin Magsalin might not generate enough publicity buzz. But I feel he was the right person as he speaks fluent Japanese – a must for this show. I cannot imagine top-billed Filipino actors can learn Japanese in short notice should they be cast as Jose de Asis as it might ruin the show’s purpose. Language is key element of culture and English-speaking actors defeat the purpose of the show. Besides, I do not think this show is meant for everyone. Japan-based Filipino workers or Filipinos fond of Japanese culture however, might find this drama right up their alley. For someone who might question the physical looks of Magsalin as not “Filipino” enough, he does represent the all-Filipino spirit.

The show has a main theme every episode encapsulate in Japanese proverbs. These ancient sayings provide the key plot of the episode. For example, Hide told the nervous Jose that meeting Erika is like “praying for the flowers to bloom” and Jose also said that to Hide’s frustrations in an episode. This is ingenious as to how this Japanese intangible symbol can play a huge part in a TV drama – something that most Filipino soap dramas fail to do.

And now comes the most interesting aspect of the show – cultural values. The characters interact with one another through the exchange of various cultural values and it comes with amazing results. This mainly happens in the dining area which is a central part of the show. For example, Jose got culture shocked when he first encountered nukazuke and natto (Japanese signature dishes), reacting with extreme disgust. Of course, these foods are everyday staple in Japan but strange and bizarre for a Filipino like Jose. In one episode, Jose and Hide got in a heated exchange committing faux pas causing Hide to storm out. Jose, confused by this reaction, was told by Nabe that in Japan, if one wants to reprimand a person, they must say it softly and tenderly. This is an important lesson for the viewers on ethnocentrism and cultural relativism. To be culturally sensitive is a way to learn from each other.

I cannot find a major flaw to give a thumbs down on this show. However, the background music during a dramatic scene might be too much and out of place for some. Then again, many Filipino soap dramas are guilty of this. The acting might be an issue for first timers as it is over-the-top and exaggerated. But does the show suffer from these issues? Probably not. Is the point-of-view narrative effective? Definitely yes. Why name the show as a diary story if it is not presented that way? Focusing on Jose’s point-of-view gives us not just a firsthand experience but also putting ourselves to his shoes in his story.

In the end, this show is not only entertaining but also informative and educational. For those who are interested in Japan, this is a good primer or introduction. For a sociologist, this is an ideal educational material especially in the study of culture. If anyone thinks otherwise, give it a good try and understand its intended message. I can tell that this show is true to its title: halo-halo. You’ll never know what to expect until you try.

Halo Halo House airs on PTV every Saturday and Sunday, 5-5:30pm. The series will run until Feb. 7. Photos from the official website and Facebook page.

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