Events in controversial tourism ad mostly true – wife of retiree

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 19) — The events in the controversial tourism advertisement are mostly true, the wife of the blind Japanese retiree on whom the story is based said.

Kukai Nye, the Filipino wife of 72-year-old Masaru Uchimura, said they were surprised when the advertisement drew allegations of plagiarism.

"Actually, totoo talaga siya. Nagulat na lang kami kasi 'yung McCann hindi naman sila directly tumawag sa amin na ganu'n talaga 'yung story [It's actually true. We were just surprised because McCann didn't directly call us to say the story would be showed like that]," Nye told CNN Philippines on Sunday in a phone interview from Japan.

However, Nye said that the essence of the story was the same.

"Nagustuhan niya talaga yung Pilipinas... Pag nakita talaga ng kaibigan namin, sabi talaga nila, 'Uy si Massy yan kasi ganyan siya [He really liked the Philippines... When our friends saw it, they really said, 'That's Massy, because he's really like that]," she added.

Uchimura is known as "Massy" to his friends.

Nye confirmed that what was shown in the commercial had occurred in real life, including Uchimura dancing with the Ifugao on the Banaue Rice Terraces. The only part of the advertisement that was not true was the ending scene set in Vigan, she said.

Uchimura first came to the Philippines in 2004 when he was about to retire from civil service. They both returned to Tokyo that year, but came back to the Philippines in 2005. It was during this time that Uchimura went around the country, visiting places like Baguio, Tagaytay, and Manila.

Nye, 37, was formerly Uchimura's caregiver. They met when he was 59, four years after he lost his eyesight.

"Nag-ikot siya ng Visayas kasi gusto niya mag-stay ng one place," said Nye. "Halimbawa Tagaytay, mag-stay siya diyan ng two weeks. Pakiramdaman nya kung ok ba sa kanya o hindi. Sa Subic, two weeks rin. Tapos sa Baguio. Umiikot talaga siya."

[Translation: He went around Visayas because he wanted to stay in one place. In Tagaytay, he stayed there for two weeks. He'll feel out if he's okay with it. In Subic, he stayed two weeks too. Then in Baguio. He really went around.]

"Mas gusto niya talaga yung spirit ng mga tao kasi nga masaya. Hindi siya nakakakita but all the time, he feels special," said Nye.

[Translation: He likes people's spirit here because they're happy. He can't see but all the time, he feels special.]

Uchimura's experiences in the Philippines were the subject of an advertisement called "Sights," which was launched on June 12. It was pulled out two days later following criticism over its similarities to another video from a South African tourism campaign.

The controversy also prompted the Department of Tourism (DOT) to terminate its ₱650-million (US$ 13 million) deal with creative agency McCann Worldgroup Philippines, two days after defending the ad and reiterating it was based on a true story.

Related: DOT severs partnership with McCann Worldgroup Philippines

Tourism Assistant Secretary Frederick Alegre told CNN Philippines on June 13 that they did not use Uchimura's real name.

However, Nye shared an e-mail they received from the DOT through McCann on June 2. It read, "It would mean a great deal for us to use his name in the said commercial," which was to be presented in a meeting on June 3.

She said they were not paid or offered compensation for the use of his name and his story.

"Nagsend sila ng form sa akin na pipirmahan ko na I agree with it, pero wala naman kami ano na directly sa kanila. Nag-message lang sila sa amin about that," said Nye.

[Translation: They just sent me a form to sign saying that I agreed with it, but we didn't have a direct (connection) to them. They just messaged us about that.]

She said her husband felt embarrassed by the attention the viral ad generated.

"Nahihiya talaga siya. So nung sinabi ko sa kanya na 'You're very famous...' sabi niya, 'Ha? Bakit ganun?' Bigla siya naging star."

[Translation: He's embarrassed. When I told him, 'You're very famous...' he said, 'What? Why?' He suddenly became a star.]

When the allegations over the ad being plagiarized surfaced, she said her husband took it lightly.

"Sabi ko pinullout naman kasi nga may kapareha. Natawa siya kasi hindi naman sila nagbayad sa akin ah. Pero okay lang naman yun."

[Translation: I said, well they pulled it out because it's similar to something else. He was amused because they didn't pay (him). But that's okay.]

Uchimura holds a Special Resident Retiree visa. They lived in Cebu for seven years before moving to Bacolod in 2012.

She shared her husband's fondness for Filipino food like balut, dinuguan, and lechon. He is also a fan and a good friend of Filipino singer Jose Mari Chan.

Uchimura, who will turn 73 on June 22, returned with Nye to Japan in April to receive medical treatment. She said they will return to the Philippines in October.

CNN Philippines Correspondent Ivy Saunar contributed to this story.