By Rica Arevalo
We met Cebuana actress Nats Sitoy when she was still a film student at De La Salle–College of Saint Benilde. She was a fighter early on, balancing life and family obligations. She came from a political clan, so it was a given that she would follow her family’s footsteps. But she defied all odds and became an actress, instead.
We saw her struggle with countless rejections, getting small parts and sometimes, being jobless.
But fate had other plans. Unexpectedly, she landed a major leading role in Keisuke Yoshida’s Itoshi No Irene (Come on Irene), a live action film adapted from a manga series created by Japanese Hideki Arai during the 1990s. She was the first Filipina to get a leading role in a Japanese film.
Nats started acting in the school theater, Dulaang Filipino. “After I graduated college, I worked for Direk Gil Portes for almost a year and went back to Cebu,” she informs us. Four years later, she attended a workshop by Brillante Mendoza. “I would go back and forth to Manila to audition then fly back to Cebu.”
She was the 2016 Cinema One Originals’ Best Supporting Actress winner for Lily. She is also part of the Netflix series, Amo directed by Mendoza. “Direk Brillante is someone I look up to. I am indebted to him,” says the Cordova town lass. “I learned so many things from him. He taught me things about the industry and life itself.”
Her greatest influence was her late father, Arleigh Sitoy. “He taught me how to stand up on my own. For years he lived with physical disability but that did not stop him to serve the people and excel,” she muses. “He was not just a politician but a teacher, a mentor, a father, and a son.” Her grandfather is the presidential adviser on Legislative Affairs Adelino Sitoy.
We recently saw her in Asuang playing a sexy, devilish sidekick. Come on Irene will have its Philippine premiere at the ongoing QCinema International Film Festival (QCinema) 2018.
The 137-minute film tells of the life of Iwao (Ken Yasuda), a pachinko worker who goes to the Philippines looking for a bride.
She describes her role as a ¥3 million “bride for sale.”
“Irene is a heart-warming, bubbly, and happy-go-lucky 18-year-old girl from the Philippines who just wants everyone around her to be happy,” says Nats. “We are similar in terms of love for family and partner. Gagawin ang lahat sa taong mahal niya (She will do everything for the people she loves).”
How was her experience acting with her screen partner, Ken Yasuda? “It was a great privilege. He was so nice and very professional,” she beams. Although they have a language barrier, they managed to communicate through sign and a translator. “The last few days of our summer shoot, I searched my co-actors. Na-windang ako (I was shocked)! They were all well-respected. I am blessed to have this opportunity God gave me.”
The film had its Japanese premiere last August inside a full-house, 600-seater theater. “The audience appreciated my performance,” she recalls. “Some fans also gave me gifts during the autograph signing.” It was her first time facing an international audience.
She had the same experience during the 23rd Busan International Film Festival. “There were Japanese fans who came to Busan to watch and see me. They also gave gifts. I also met a lot of Japanese directors and actors,” she narrates. “I was amazed they knew me! They called me ‘Irene’ and I also had a British press interview because they were intrigued with the film.”
Everything is surreal for Nats who, before the Come On Irene audition, was on the verge of giving up acting. “I was out of job for a long time. A lot of things were happening in my personal life. I did not expect to get this project. This is really a blessing!”
Come on Irene will be screened on QCinema starting Oct. 25, 9:30 p.m. at Gateway Cineplex 7, then on Oct. 27, 8:30 p.m. at the Robinsons Galleria Cinema 8, and finally on Oct. 29, 4 p.m. at Gateway Cineplex 7.