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Akihiro Blanco, Mocha Uson star as May-December lovers in CineFilipino entry

Akihiro Blanco, Mocha Uson, and director Ato Bautista. (Photo by Don Gordon Bell)

“Artista Academy” finalist Akihiro Blanco and controversial singer-dancer Mocha Uson lead the cast of “Mga Alaala ng Tag-Ulan”, Ato Bautista’s coming-of-age feature film entry to the CineFilipino Film Festival this June.

This is the seventh feature film by the filmmaker who became the toast of last year’s Cinema One Originals filmfest for “Palitan”, his acclaimed homage to Peque Gallaga’s “Scorpio Nights”.

Bautista said “Mga Alaala ng Tag-Ulan” is actually based on an eight-year-old screenplay that he never got around to filming until now.

“It’s a poignant story about a young’s man first encounter with love, romance and heartbreak told in bits and pieces of poetic and melancholic memories of one man pouring under one rainy night,” Bautista wrote in the film’s synopsis posted on its official Facebook page.

If the May-December affair hinted in the plot sounds familiar, it’s because yes, the film is partly inspired by the coming-of-age classic “Summer of ‘42” of which the director admits to being a fan.

“I always mention ‘Summer of ‘42’ in every pitch but I get my inspiration from many other films, lots of different genres and my own experiences too,” he told InterAksyon. “The film is not an autobiography and real life is definitely different from the cinema I create, well, I just want to make a love story that would depict an emotion that I felt at a certain part of my life which I believe and hope that the audience would also connect to.”

Because the screenplay has been in the shelf for quite a while, Direk Ato admits that the original actors he had in mind for the leads “would not suit their parts now”. So he decided to start anew and look for fresh faces.

“I found two good actors for supporting roles in the two-day general auditions CineFilipino had prepared for all of the films. The other roles were handpicked but most were found through recommendations by talent managers, contacts and my own inquiries. It sounds easy but lots of careful study, thinking and brainstorming goes behind the process before I arrived on my final list.”

Bautista eventually chose the 17-year-old Akihiro to play the role of Santi, a college freshman raised in the big city who now has to adjust to a new life in a suburban town in addition to his parents’ marital conflicts at home.

“I first heard of Akihiro’s name from Mon Confiado, my lead actor in ‘Palitan’, since he is more familiar with actors new and seasoned in the industry,” the director revealed. “He suggested the name while we were hanging out for drinks and talking about my next project. Mon mentioned him even before ‘Mga Alaala ng Tag-Ulan’ became a CineFilipino finalist, but at that time Akihiro’s name didn’t quite register with me.”

Because he forgot about Akihiro, Direk Ato actually managed to come up with a final eight and could not decide who will be his Santi. That was when organizers and his own staff would once again suggest Akihiro, who is seen by many as a Robin Padilla type and was consistently impressive during the “Artista Academy” challenges and almost won the Best Actor plum that eventually went to Vin Abrenica.

“I looked him up on the internet and saw his picture, then had his contact found by my line producer and invited him for an interview and a read for the role. At our first meet, I was positive that he’ll suit the part. He is young and new but I see huge potential in him as an actor and as a leading man,” he noted.

In choosing Mocha for the role of Claire, the bookshop assistant who becomes the object of Santi’s affection, Bautista was not at all influenced by all the controversies surrounding the sexy and outspoken performer who has openly admitted to being a bisexual.

“I chose Mocha for the female lead not for the sexy nature of her image and craft but because I see and believe in her talent as an artist and a performer,” he pointed out. Besides her fitting the age and the look of the character in the script, I think she has the acting talent I can help bring out more. And I always go for my instincts as a filmmaker, once I felt that a person suits the part, I go for it even if others find it unconventional.”

Mocha has previously appeared in the indie productions, “Sumpa”, “Seksing Masahista” and most recently, “Butas 2”.

Mon Confiado and Issa Litton will play Akihiro's parents in the movie. (Photo by Don Gordon Bell)

The other cast members of “Mga Alaala ng Tag-Ulan” are Mon Confiado, Issa Litton, Lance Raymundo and Pio Balbuena. Barring any hitches, the director said principal photography for the film should start this month.

As its plot which Direk Ato said involves “love, kiss, sex and murder,” expectations are naturally high that people will see a generous amount of nudity and sex scenes just like the ones he presented in “Palitan”. The director, however, is not willing to volunteer anything more at this point.

“I don’t want to reveal too many information but I can confidently say that ‘Mga Alaala ng Tag-Ulan’ will definitely be very different from ‘Palitan’.”

The 1st CineFilipino Film Festival will take place from June 26 to July 2 at the Araneta Center’s Gateway Cineplex and Ali Mall Cinemas as well as at the Newport Cinemas at Resorts World.