Where have all the old people gone?

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)

Memories of Tomorro

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.


6 thoughts on “Where have all the old people gone?”

  1. amazing people, i suppose, who still value their life and see reason to be productive despite their old age.

    but there are those who think, though not narrowly, that life ends to have meaning the moment their youth abandons them.

    i have not yet reached that point, i’m 23, but i may choose not to live longer than i know is reasonable.

  2. anita magsaysay-ho, the great filipina artist, was still painting in 2005, when she was 91. last year, 2008, she was honored with an award by the ateneo de manila.

    my mother is 92. she goes to church every sunday and sings the hymns out loud. she goes to the senior center several times a week to dance.

    my grandmother died at age 101. years before she passed away, she continued to plant, water and harvest vegetables.

  3. Mr. Harvey, thanks for the response. I think I might have overly generalized.

    Although I grew up in a household that has high regards for the elderly, this is, I am to believe, not the case in the country. I am standing by my observation.

  4. I just read your blog about old folks in the Philippines and I am thinking that maybe you’ve just not been introduced to the right old folks. Philippine cinema does not really reflect reality as far as old folks are concerned – actually as far as any age group is concerned.

    Wish you could meet our friends:

    We have an 85-year old doctor-friend who is very active – he still speaks at meetings, swims and attends our parties. He dances on stage with his wife when his barangay holds their community show.

    Another friend is about the same age and she teaches drama. She offers her home for sala theater performances.

    A cousin is 67 and works as a consultant with an international organization. She was until recently with the Red Cross.

    My “balae” is 65 and can’t retire as head of the government office on nuclear energy because there is no one to take her place.

    I am 63 and I am certainly not staying quiet or disappearing. I’ve started teaching at a local college for the first time. My husband is 61 and he is very active with many advocacy projects, in addition to his advertising photography projects.

    1. I’m thinking of the same thing. But I want not just to disappear but to magically disappear.

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