Kita Kita is Lea (Alessandra de Rossi), who is a Filipina working in Japan as a tour guide. At the start of the film, she’s looking forward to finally tying the knot with her Japanese fiancee, but then discovers that he’s been cheating on her. To make things worse, she suddenly loses her ability to see. She convalesces in her home, resigning herself to a rather lonely existence. But that’s when her neighbor Tonyo (Empoy Marquez) introduces himself to her. Tonyo seems determined to break Lea out of her funk, giving her food and taking her out, and trying to push past her resistance to finding any sort of happiness in her predicament.There’s more, but it’s better to avoid the details for now. Suffice it to say that not everything is completely as it seems, the film at times playing fast and loose with the timeline to achieve a very specific effect. But for the most part, this really just the story of a persistent suitor; of a well-meaning young man who approaches a brokenhearted woman and tries to be there for her. There are problems inherent to this premise, but there is a gentleness to this film that lets it skate by the expected discomfort. It is thoughtful and patient, the film giving its characters space to build something real.Having said that, the stuff that the film chooses to romanticize can still feel iffy. All the film’s sweetness doesn’t completely erase an overall tendency to portray borderline creepy behavior as the foundation for a love story. The film is best when it just allows the characters to talk frankly about who they are and what they’ve been through. There is resonance in how these characters speak of their lives in this far-off land, away from their families, looking for any sort of connection that might make them feel a little less lonely. The film builds a context where heartbreak is amplified, because these characters, no matter suited they might be to living abroad, still aren’t home.And that’s smart, but it doesn’t entirely excuse where the movie goes. There are still points where what the film plays as infatuation comes off as strange obsession. There are bits where Tonyo’s efforts might feel like overreach. The film tells its story well, employing clever little structuring tricks that create interesting parallels between its two main characters. But there are just these moments where it all becomes a little questionable, playing into fantasies that in real life would be much harder to swallow.There’s plenty of skill on display, though. Skilled direction allows the film to shift seamlessly between silly little jokes and much heavier moments. The production design gives the film distinct personality. The more questionable aspects of the story are also mitigated somewhat by the two leads. Alessandra de Rossi brings an interesting edge to her character, the heartbreak conveyed with greater ennui than your average starlet. And Empoy Marquez just doesn’t bring an ounce of malice to the role, which helps out a lot. The contrast between the two tells a story in itself, and there’s real merit in that.The strengths of Kita Kita are clearly evident. Its weaknesses are obscured somewhat, but they’re there. And any objections to some of the behavior of these characters would be completely understandable. But if you can get past that, it ends up being a pretty sweet film about two people who just didn’t give up on each other. Issues aside, there is genuine skill on display, the film handling emotions big and small, building palpable romance in its smaller moments of kindness.
KITA KITA OPENS ON JULY 19 IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE.