Nobody grows old in the Philippines. Everyone is young. Old people are unheard of; they either die in silence or magically disappear. The pride Filipinos have for their deference for the old people is a sham.
Absence is a declarative statement; the absence of old people in cinema speaks for this value, or the lack of, that we give to the graying segment of the population. And so the fear of getting old, although not expressed verbally or with the use of any visible means, is deeply seated within us. As the Filipino family evolves, so is the erosion of traditional values that used to hold the members together, so is the high regard we used to have for our elders.
Philippine media is too immature to tackle issues concerning the elderly because of the fallacious thinking that films about old people will not sell in the box office. There were attempts recently such as Joel Lamangan’s Fuchsia that starred Gloria Romero, Robert Arevalo, and Eddie Garcia, but it has limited circulation that it is probably unheard of in other parts of the country, save Manila.
And it took two Japanese films (with an even limited viewership since they’re only shown in a film festival) to give us an idea on how it is to grow old in a modern society such as Japan.
Turn Over – An Angel is Coming on a Bicycle (Futari Biyori)
An elderly couple, Kuroyoshi Gen and Chie, are living in an old neighborhood of Kyoto. Gen is a traditional artisan who designs patterns and kimonos for Shinto priests. They have been married for 45 years but with no children. Chie has developed an illness that is affecting her muscles and she is slowly losing the ability to use her hands. Everyday Gen goes to gather water from the local shrine.
One day, on his way back he sees a young university Science student, Shunusuke, who is doing magic tricks for the neighborhood children. To cheer up Chie, Gen asks Shunusuke to come to his house to teach Chie some magic. Gen works hard at his business and in some ways does not appreciate his wife. But as she becomes sicker, Gen starts to take better care of her.
As the days pass, Chie and Shunusuke grow closer. Chie is losing control of her hand muscles more and more. He has been offered the opportunity to study in the US and is forced to decide to leave his girlfriend Megumi. Chie’s condition worsens as the muscles around her lungs tighten. After her death, Gen is broken and realizes how much he has lost.
Memories of Tomorrow (Ashita No Kioku)
In a flash forward to 2010, Saeki Masayuki (Ken Watanabe, 2003 Academy Award Nominee for “The Last Samurai”) is shown sitting in a vegetative state in a chair while his wife Emiko posts photos of their family members and friends on a board in front of them.
In the spring of 2004, Saeki is a relentless manager at an advertising agency and at the top of his game. He, however, begins to forget little things such as the names of his clients, where he left the car keys, or the turnoff to his daughter Rie’s apartment. His wife Emiko convinces him to visit a doctor where a precautionary check up diagnosed him with an early on-set Alzheimer’s disease. The husband and wife are daunted with unspeakable fear and sorrow for him gradually but certainly losing his memory.
Both films fearlessly tackle this uncertain yet inevitable stage. But unlike most films that romanticize this time as if it is a walk in a park, Turn Over and Memories of Tomorrow take away the entire garb and show snippets of the courage it requires to face this point in the characters’ lives. They allow the viewer to see how humans deal with growing old alone, physical debilities that result from aging, and the most painful (for me) losing one’s memories, with no tinge of rosiness, devoid of ingratiating melodrama, without sounding preachy.
If you want to watch these two Japanese films with a different take on an issue seldom talked about in the Philippines you may catch them at the Shangri-la Plaza mall in Mandaluyong from the 2nd of July until the 12th. This is one of the activities organized by the Embassy of Japan, UP Film Institute and Shangri-la Plaza in celebration of the Philippine-Japan Friendship Month.