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PREMISE: The history of how Manila was almost saved by Godis Withus Go, the professional filmmaker and accomplished liar, and how Yamashita’s wedding was put on celluloid because eventually, the truth always finds it’s way to film.
Pecan Street Press
Lubbock ● Austin ● Fort Worth
Copyright © 2020 Pecan Street Press
All rights reserved.
Library of Congress has catalogued the hardcover edition as follows:
Yamashita’s Wedding / by Anonymous. – 1st ed.
- Manila, Philippines.
- Battle of Manila.
- Manila, filmmakers.
- Title; Four Films and Yamashita’s Wedding.
ACT ONE – Yamashita’s Wedding
SCENE 1 – Yamashita’s Wedding
My name comes from the English phrase, “God is with us.” It is spoken using my mom’s raw Bisaya accent and is therefore pronounced as “gu-dees wi-tus”. She was religious when she was fifteen; now, not so much. But the Japanese soldier I am dealing with wouldn’t care anything about that.
I’m a filmmaker in Manila, or I was, before the Japanese showed up. There has been a long drought but if I can run a film crew, with each member a genius (and some of them two geniuses in their single body), then I can survive this pesky Japanese occupation. Eventually, we will extricate the occupiers from our humble islands. Never mind that I’ve never really been more than twenty km outside of the city, but I’m feeling now that maybe at last I can help the fellows up in the mountains.
It isn’t going well. This Japanese soldier is polite enough – they are always polite – but I am losing him. The Americans will be here long before this Japanese fellow will pay me a single yen.
“It’s a fantastic story,” I say. “There’s this actor – Humphrey Bogart, he will be amazing in it. It’s a part he will be interested in. You know who Humphrey Bogart is?”
Of course, he knows Bogart. A little ground regained. Bogart is what always gets them, they have no idea he is under contract.
“Go on,” he says.
“There’s this man,” I move on but he interrupts, which is fine, it’s his story.
“He’s an aristocrat by birth but fallen on hard times. He’s begging in the street,” the Jap soldier says.
“That’s good,” I say thoughtfully. “Americans like that.”
“And one day he’s sitting outside the temple…”
“Churches. The Americans call them churches,” I correct him. “Or maybe a synagogue? Maybe you mean these fellows are Jewish?”
The Jap corporal just gives me the most confused look.
“If you do, that’s perfectly okay. It might even help.”
“I don’t know,” the Nip admits.
“If you wanna sell a script in Hollywood, you gotta get the lingo down. Hai?”
“Hai. Thank you,” and the soldier/screenwriter makes a note and continues.
“With his hat on the ground and his dog on a bit of string…”
“No dogs. Americans hate dogs,” I just have to warn him.
The kid, he is just a kid, makes another note.
“With his hat on the ground, when who should walk up but the American Vice President and the FBI Director. In disguise, of course.”
“Edward G. Robinson and Bob Hope,” I suggest.
He has no idea who I am talking about so I gesture that the man has a large nose. He is still lost. I should have chosen a better-known actor/comedian.
“Give Me a Sailor? Road to Singapore?”
“Road to Singapore” seemed to ring a bell with him. But they are so damn polite you never really know if they understand. He smiles stupidly and makes even more notes.
This kid needs some confidence before he pays me. So I tell him. “You skillfully show them in the White House working in the scene before, so we know it’s them. I like that. Shows real skill.”
“Of course. And they point out that the beggar man bears an uncanny resemblance to the President. Yes, the poor beggar says, he’s my sixteenth cousin four times removed, that’s why I grew the beard because it’s impossible to find work looking like that, but what can a man do?” Don’t get me wrong this Nip doesn’t speak perfect English; they never do. I’m paraphrasing.
“Can’t find work. Now that is a clever line. Very witty. I think you have a career in Hollywood when the war is over. You do need to work on the English, however. I can hardly understand you.”
I never have an hour for a mark (or a client) either one, and so I finish his story quickly for him, “And then the Vice President says, we need you to do a job for us, and you’ll be well paid. And it turns out that the President’s been abducted by spies in the pay of the enemy, who want to start a war, so we need you to pretend to be him, just long enough so that…”
He raises his hand. “Please stop you. Do you think possible?” he says.
Oh well, I thought.
“It’s a great story,” I say. “I agree. It’s a fantastic story. Always has been. It was a great stage play in France with Napoleon as the subject. It was even better in Russia, with Nicholas abducted.”
“But this would be modern film,” he pointed out.
“I don’t produce stage plays,” I remind him. “But still, it’s one of those stories – well, a bit like this war,” I say with a smile. “Starts off really well a long time ago and just keeps on getting worse and worse, no matter how many times you tell it, up to a point, but after a while…”
Like the five other Japanese soldiers I’ve worked with, he’s lost all pretense of the Japanese winning the war. They are all focused entirely on their lives (in Hollywood) after the war.
“Best of luck with it,” I say, “but I don’t honestly think I can help you; thanks all the same.”
I’ve learned not to make it too easy for them. A few roadblocks and hurdles only make them more hungry.
“I can fix it,” he told me.
“Add a love story? Maybe we can get Myrna Loy?”
He is filled with new enthusiasm and his pen works on his note pad feverishly.
I hesitate. “Occupations are good,”
He hands me a curious look.
“Tell you what. Why don’t you go away and rewrite it with just the occupation, and forget about the other romantic stuff? Occupation stories are going selling really well right now in Hollywood.”
“No Myrna Loy?”
“Of course. Put a role for her in there. I know someone who knows Myrna’s secretary.”
“Occupation would be bizarre.” He wanted to resist.
But (I explain to him, when he objects), “What the Americans want is something that looks at first sight like real life, but which actually turns out to be a fairy tale with virtue dominant, evil completely defeated, a positive, uplifting message, a gutsy, kick-ass female lead and, if at all possible, mermaids.”
The Jap guesses, “So we market it as an occupation story and slip the mermaid in secretively?”
I nod and he scribbles feverishly and doesn’t stop to think. I know he won’t think, or maybe not until it is too late. But then I realize throwing in an occupation AND a mermaid will just delay my getting paid.
But, I tell him, this would be a very expensive movie to make and that he would need one of the major studios behind it. They all had their own writers, but there was a way around all that; that I know men that might help in pitching it directly to the studio bosses. That John Wayne is…
… was also a great pitchman and that he supplemented his acting salary by helping friends. I did freely admit to him that I received a cut, but that if anyone could sell the idea, John could do it.
And he suddenly realized what a mermaid actually was.
“Yes; what the Americans want is something that looks new and completely original but is actually the same Greek mythology we’ve all known and loved since we were kids.
“Agreed,” he says.
“The way this is, it’s the same old, same old; after a night or two, the projectionist will start to feel terribly bored. But, add the occupation and the mermaid and you’ll give them what they want. The box office will be huge.”
So finally he gets up to leave and as that happens, I give him a positive, uplifting piece of bullshit about an occupation where virtue triumphs, evil is vanquished and Myrna Loy looks stunning in slinky black leather pants as she kicks German ass from the Bavarian Alps to the North Sea. And that he needs to bring me 20,000 yen, which is John Wayne’s fee, or about $5000 dollars.
What an idiot I am! He’d never come up with that amount of money, not before the end of the war. Unless his father was rich, or he wants to gamble. In all honesty, I tell him even the silver-tongued cowboy lawyer, John Wayne, isn’t always successful. Who knows; his Japanese Army superiors might get wind of his ambition and end our deal. Or the Americans might show up at any moment.
I tell him he must write a story so the Americans is think the war has been worth it; not bad advice. Righteousness wins, evil utterly bleeds out before the medics can get there (a positive, uplifting message), and he absolutely must have a gutsy, awesome soy-sauce female lead and, if at all possible, an air-breathing mermaid. I have to confess, I’m no scholar; so for all I know, there may be mermaids, in Westerland or somewhere cold like that. So maybe one component of that to-die-for (excuse the pun) list does actually exist in real life. Wouldn’t like to bet the kid gets it done, though.
The Japanese soldier leaves and I am exiting my office/apartment when the most outstanding thing that could ever happened, did happened! A fully credentialed man (I checked him out) named Paul Delibes, cultural attaché (and an avid collector of antique stamps or just about anything else a person brought him) approaches me.
I am on my way to swing by his embassy with three letters for the States and three for Tokyo, but since he is standing there, I hand him the six outgoing letters. He smiles as everything is normal. Except…
My Spanish friend hands me a letter. The letter is addressed to me, care of the Spanish Embassy. It has the flashy “V” logo return address, apparently, nothing of a secret, except it is stamped “DIPLOMATIC.” It is from Vanguard Films. And inside it is a letter with the best of all possible news. A life-changing opportunity signed personally by David O. Selznick.
Before the fighting, Spain initially aligned itself with the Axis powers (although officially neutral during rough stuff). However, Japan chose and always used Spain for the representation of Japanese interests in the Latin-American republics. That’s why the letters I hand him for Hollywood, at stamped “DIPLOMATIC” and visit Mexico City before entering the U.S. But the letters he forwards to Tokyo go directly there via airplane.
The imminent victory of the allies in the Pacific Ocean theater had induced a change in the Spanish diplomatic position vis-à-vis Japan and, using as a pretext the massacre of Spanish nationals in the conflict, the former accused the later of deliberate attacks. And currently, some members of the Spanish government suddenly view Japan as being “Anti-Christian” and are debating the idea of a war declaration. But of course, the Spanish Embassy in Manila is still open and functioning. This Paul fellow will mail anything I ask him to, for a fee.
The letter says Selznick needs a feature “ASAP,” a biopic or action-thriller based on a Filipino resistance leader. Doesn’t say which one. In English and with strong roles for the “Filipina Ginger Rogers” and “an Asiatic Shirly Temple.”
Asiatic? These Manila girls aren’t some sort of flora or fauna? And besides would that even be possible? I mean I have never seen a curly redheaded teen ever. Not ever! But the letter says, and Paul repeats it, that he has the money ($20,000, only it will be paid in Spanish Pesetas). I say I didn’t care and the women I run with don’t care either. And he tells me he will hand it over as soon as he has the script.
I asked Paul if he meant after he’d read the script, or seen the finished film, and found it acceptable. His response made me stand two inches taller, “Mr. Selznick apparently trusts you.”
The money is in a safe inside the embassy.
Selznick’s name is not to be used, his code name will be “Culver City” and I am to hand the letter back over when I’m done reading it. I do hand it back and Paul tears my “keep-sake” into 100 pieces and throws them into the gutter drain. He smiles (at my success) and says to bring the script to the embassy when it is complete. We shake hands like always and he forgets to take payment for the six letters I’ve just handed him.
I walk over Santa Cruz Bridge into Ermita. The curious thing about this new “Japanese” city, all the parts appear to be in place, but with different names; but really, who cares? I’m talking about the renaming of the Bureau of Posts to the Bureau of Communications. Why, for what purpose? I believe the Japanese occupiers rename everything to show their total arrogant dominance.
I’m sentimental; I polished my skills in and around the Manila Central Post Office. Before the Japanese arrived, I sent three letters per day to Hollywood, via the regular post. I began with honest appeals but slowly it evolved (or as the priest insists “devolved”) into less than honest efforts.
Understand please, I may lie to foreign studio executives daily (excluding Sunday), but I am a good person. Since I am a filmmaker (potentially), I’m choosy about the company I keep, so I tend to stay clear of murderers, muggers, rapists, and extortion gangs.
That leaves me with plenty of friends and not a single one of them makes legal use of the postal system. The confidence men are alright, but they’re smarter than me and don’t limit their adventurism to the Japanese occupiers, so I generally gravitate to forgers and counterfeiters of stamps and currency. First, it’s good business, and second, you meet a better class of person running in the company of harmless tricksters. Violence just isn’t my style and what are a few paper cuts?
I’m talking about it because I’m walking past it. No one I know uses that building anymore; except for Tokyo, all mail is limited to the Greater Manila area, comprising of – Manila, Caloocan, Makati, Mandaluyong, Parañaque, Pasay, Quezon, and San Juan del Monte. Provincial post offices will probably never reopen until the Japs are driven out, as the situation in most areas aren’t stable. It’s a war.
The Japanese Imperial Forces entered Manila on January 2, 1942. Postal service was temporarily suspended until full instructions were laid down for its reopening. Rules and regulations were formulated and implemented by the new Department of Public Works and Communications.
The postal service was formally reopened at Manila Central Post Office on March 4, 1942. Two stamps and a postal card were issued. Stamps from the Commonwealth were overprinted with two black bars covering the words “Commonwealth of the” and “United States of America.” My friends think these are easier to counterfeit if you are curious.
This occupation, I’ve sent one-thousand and thirty-eight “DIPLOMATIC” letters to studios and producers in Tokyo. Unfortunately, Tokyo has been more of a water-haul than Hollywood. So, I have been saying “screw you Japs too,” but certainly not to their faces.
No one I know uses the post office; all mail is subject to censorship. And who wants to pitch an idea and see it produced in Tokyo under the name of some Japanese intelligence officer? So, I’m not so desperate to use the Post Office. I use the Spanish Embassy; Paul is very reasonable. He once even accepted a bicycle for his services.
But it is an impressive building. The post office is strategically located where it is because of Daniel Burnham. It is at the foot of Jones Bridge for one of two reasons. First, is that the Pasig River which can be used conveniently as an easy route for delivering mail; and secondly, the post office can be accessed from all sides including Quiapo, Binondo, Malate, and Ermita.
When the Americans come, the Japanese will probably burn the building down. Pity. Everyone will miss it; but no great loss for the Japanese. We may lose a nice impressive building but in exchange, the summary executions will be down about one hundred percent once they leave. It’s so much easier to tolerate your enemies if you’re not being bent over to have your head chopped off.
A respectable professional man like myself has to have a reason for setting foot on Del Pilar Street; not something one can do frivolously, or unless you absolutely have to. I walk down a couple of alleys, with that dreadful twitchy feeling you simply can’t help, like you’re a cat down at the palengke, then I stopped at one of twenty, or so, identical dive bars. I put on my gloves and walk up to the door. The surface of the bar was is filthy, and this woman stands there staring at me.
I wouldn’t put her in a film. I wouldn’t dare. Barroom caricatures and the theater of the grotesque are all very well – a filmmaker’s lifeblood if the truth is told – but there’s such a thing as overdoing it. So, if you want an obnoxious old hag, you go for two or three out of the recognized iconography – furrows for wrinkles, crooked nose, a receding hairline, wispy thin white unkempt hair, weathered hands like lobster claws, all that. In film, smart directors never use them all in one character, because it’s overdone. Nobody would believe it on the screen. If forced to choose, I would rather film an ugly baby Jesus than overdo a red-light madam.
“Hello, Mother,” I say.
She gives me a bitter look. “Oh,” she says, “what do you want?”
“Can’t I just check in on you? See how you’re doing?” I ask.
“Like you give a rat’s ass?” She was always a negative type of mother.
She doesn’t like me in her bar. “Can I just sit here for a minute?” I asked. She maybe feels it’s a bad influence on me.
“Why? What do you want?” Mom asks.
She loves me really, but I’m a great disappointment to her. “I haven’t been to see you for a while,” I say.
“Not that I care, but I don’t know what’s better not seeing you for six months or three years of Japanese occupation?”
“Well, I’m gonna sit down.”
My mother owns her bar, which in Ermita, makes her aristocracy. She’s also the owner of a brothel, one that the Japanese haven’t stolen yet. She must be paying a fortune. Maybe not. She provides top-notch girls for the sons of the Japanese nobility, who sit around executing Filipinos all day; the difference being, ironically, my mother is paid far more than the Emperors officers, but I have no idea where she hides all that money.
She’s practically blind, but she sees silhouettes clearly and the potential recruits are always backlit. She’s very good at what she does, very quick accessing things, and there is never any problem with the quality of the merchandise. I once figured out that she’d recruited enough Filipinas to stretch from here to Davao and back. I told her that. She has no idea where Davao is, and couldn’t care less.
“You want money?” she asked.
True but tactless; very occasionally I’ve been obliged to borrow trivial sums, but not recently. Not for at least six months.
“Of course not,” I say. “I just wanted to see you, that’s all. You’re my mother, for crying out loud.”
She walks down to the far end of the bar, past two Japanese sergeants, and help a known murderer and a professional blackmailer. She helps everyone in the bar and returned to me. I tell her what I’d been doing, or I deliver an artistic version of it, in which virtue wins and sin is utterly overcome. She pretends she can’t hear me over the noise of the bar. Like I say, I’m a disappointment to her. She wants me to be a provider, like my father.
A man can take only so much from the head of his family, so I cut short my narrative about the mail to an appealing conclusion. I tell her to take care and I leave.
Tomoyuki Yamashita (山下 奉文, Yamashita Tomoyuki, 8 November 1885 – 23 February 1946; also called Tomobumi Yamashita) was a Japanese general of the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II. Yamashita led Japanese forces during the invasion of Malaya and Battle of Singapore, with his accomplishment of conquering Malaya and Singapore in 70 days earning him the sobriquet “The Tiger of Malaya” and led to the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill calling the ignominious fall of Singapore to Japan the “worst disaster” and “largest capitulation” in British military history. Yamashita was assigned to defend the Philippines from the advancing Allied forces later in the war, and while unable to prevent the Allied advance, he was able to hold on to part of Luzon until after the formal Surrender of Japan in August 1945.
After the war, Yamashita was tried for war crimes committed by troops under his command during the Japanese defense of the occupied Philippines in 1944. Yamashita denied ordering those war crimes and denied having knowledge that they even occurred. Conflicting evidence was presented during the trial concerning whether Yamashita had implicitly affirmed commission of these crimes in his orders and whether he knew of the crimes being committed. The court eventually found Yamashita guilty and he was executed by hanging in 1946. The ruling against Yamashita – holding the commander responsible for subordinates’ war crimes as long as the commander did not attempt to discover and stop them from occurring – came to be known as the Yamashita standard.