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Watching Japanese:'The Summit: Chronicles of Stones'

CHANNEL SURFING - Althea Lauren Ricardo -

Would you climb a mountain—one that has, to the best of your knowledge, never been conquered—called the Mountain of Death?

You probably would, if the task were part of something bigger than yourself. Like your job. In the Meiji era. In the early 1900s. With your superior pressuring you by appealing to your sense of duty and honor. And the map of your country depending on it.

And so Yoshitaro Shibasaki (Asano Tadanobu) accepts the task of heading the Army Geological Survey Unit in a mission to climb the inaccessible Mount Tsurugidake, 3,000 kilometers above sea level, with unpredictably harsh weather conditions and temperatures reaching minus 40ºC. The mission's objective is to place triangulation stones to create accurate maps of the region.

Yoshitaro builds a team composed of local guides and two other surveyors and, in the middle of organizing their survey, they find themselves thrust into a very public competition with the Japan Alpine Club, headed by Usui Kojima (Nakamura Toru). The club is an amateur mountain climbing that uses mountaineering techniques from abroad, and they want to be the first to reach the peak of Mount Tsurugidake.

Yoshitaro tries his very best to stay on purpose, despite brushes with Usui's rather arrogant team. His job is clear: he is climbing the mountain for surveying, not for competition. Nevertheless, his army superiors soon begin to pressure him to get to the summit first. For the country. For honor.

What I initially thought was going to be one of those "I conquered this mountain, I conquered my physical limitations" tale, turned out to be something deeper. Yes, it also went the man vs. nature and man vs. self routes, but Yoshitaro, the surveyor, was a study in commitment and calm purpose and finding one's place in this world.

His first few attempts to climb the mountain were complete failures—the weather turned bad, he and his guide couldn't bear the snow. And so he went home and prepared for his next attempt, with nary a complaint escaping his lips.

During his many climbs, Yoshitaro finds himself in awe of the scenery in front of him—something the movie's cinematographer captures deftly. Each frame left me thinking: I am nothing in front of this lasting beauty; and if I am nothing, then so are my fears.

Anyone who's ever climbed a mountain or gazed at any one of nature's grandiosities would understand its humbling effect. Yoshitaro speaks about feeling small, insignificant. What are humans in the face of eternity? As one of the film's lines goes, nature is eternal, life is fleeting. You might as well go.

Feeling so small in front of something big, you can lose your smallness and suddenly grow. What have you got to lose, if you see yourself so inconsequential? What do your fears matter, if they make the minutest dent at all?

In one of his many ascents, Yoshitaro and his guide Chojiro Uji (Teruyuki Kagawa) encounter a monk who has chosen to stay in the mountain. They come across an opportunity to save his life, and the monk tells them, if you want to climb Tsurugidake, bear the snow; bear the snow and the snow will bear you.

All throughout the film, I found myself thinking, "What they're doing is so hard! It's so cold. It's so dangerous!"

But isn't that what life is, on a regular basis? Hard, and cold, and dangerous. That's the snow. Bear the snow.

Accept life as it is, move forward with that acceptance, and you will eventually find your way to the summit.

Catch Ega Sai at the Ayala Center on August 2 to 7. Email your comments to alricardo@yahoo.com. You can also visit my personal blog at http://althearicardo.blogspot.com. You can text your comments again to (63)917-9164421.

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