Monday, August 18, 2014

Three Films on Aging Parents

Photo by Spreng Ben.
I recently viewed Cherry Blossoms (2008), a German-language film with aging themes.  It distinguished itself in its depiction of a German couple and their adult children trying to adjust to the parents' changing needs as they age.

Nevertheless, Cherry Blossoms alluded strongly to the 1953 Japanese-language film Tokyo Story.  In turn, Tokyo Story draws on the English-language film Make Way for Tomorrow (1937).

I found them all thought provoking.  The recurrence of the theme moving from 1937 to 1953 to 2008 makes a strong case for recommending all of them.  But start with just one.

All three films take a good, hard look at how adult children respond to their parents' aging process. And it's not a pretty scene.

I was mesmerized by Cherry Blossoms (2008).  As with all three films, it's an ensemble cast of characters portraying aging parents and their children.  This most contemporary version is paced faster than Tokyo Story and is much less preachy than Make Way for Tomorrow.

Here is a trailer for the fairly contemporary film Cherry Blossoms (2008):

Cherry Blossoms begins with the patriarch Rudi working his last year at a waste management company. His wife Trudi supports him and dedicated herself to raising three children: Klaus, Karl and Karolin--who are all now well launched.  After deciding it's too expensive to fly to Japan to see Karl, who lives and works abroad, the parents visit the other two children who live in Berlin.

(Note: There is some female nudity in the middle of the film when Rudi leaves a bar where he has been drinking all day.  Skip the next 10 minutes after that if you want to avoid viewing those graphic scenes.)

It's hard to review this film without spoiling the effect of the events as they unfold. I will just comment that the imagery was thought-provoking (if not a bit heavy handed at times).  But more intriguing to me was the depiction of the artists in the film.  I was moved by the juxtaposition of the thoughtless mundane acts of daily life are sharply contrasted with intentional acts of increased self-awareness.  I found myself feeling gratitude for the role of artists in society.

Here is a film critic from New York Times reviewing slow-paced Tokyo Story:

 While watching the most recent film from this group, I kept thinking of Tokyo Story (1953) because they share the same type of ensemble cast (aging parents and their children), same themes, and even some similar scenes.  I checked with IMDB's trivia section to see if my hunch was correct. Yes, others have observed the connection, too. Tokyo Story has the slowest pace of the three. But to the discerning eye, it speaks volumes through minimal dialect and through thoughtfully composed shots.

Tokyo Story also has been positively reviewed for it's depiction of post-World War II change and how younger Japanese approached life differently from their parents, which only added to the generational conflict when the parents' aging issues grew apparent.

A Sermon-in-a-Trailer for Make Way for Tomorrow:

Both of these films pay homage to the 1937 film, Make Way for Tomorrow.  This film is the most overtly didactic of the three. For this reason, it got a little grating.  But the questions it poses and the observations it makes about family dynamics still holds true.

They all remind me of King Lear. Here is a trailer for a recent production:

Granted, King Lear puts a harsher focus on Lear's flaws than the film. Nevertheless, I do concede that Shakespeare had his thumb on the pulse of the question: what responsibilities to adult children have to their parents?  After centuries of consideration, few find an easy response.


Films About Aging A-L


  1. Very interesting. I watched all your clips and I'd really like to see Make Way for Tomorrow. How do I find this film? Do I just buy it off Amazon? Or do I find it on something like Netflex? Where do you find your films? Great post…thank you!

    1. G'ma Honey: I view almost all of these films on Netflix DVD. I watched a few through Netflix livestreaming, but I prefer to curl up in bed with the DVD player on a lap desk where I can sequester myself away from everyone and not take up any bandwidth. I've been working on a list actively for 5 years. And now that I've seen 148 films about aging, I'm seeing patterns emerge and connections among films. I'm also seeing the body of work by some very good actors filmed during their midlife and late life years. Make Way for Tomorrow was an interesting film and helped me see a bit more from the view point of my great grandparents, since it was filmed when they were older adults. Thanks for stopping by the blog.

  2. I haven't seen Cherry Blossoms yet----but it looks interesting! My mom is the movie buff in the family--I'm going to ask her if she has seen any of these.

    1. So cool that your mom is a movie buff! Maybe she has seen the 1937 one since it's a classic. And if she likes foreign films, she may have seen the 1953 one as well. Film critics refer to it a lot from what I've seen. The most current one, Cherry Blossoms, has a real indie film / art house manner about it. And it's in German / Japanese with subtitles in English. Despite all these barriers, I absolutely loved it, and it gave me more insight into the difficult path that bereaved people walk. I cried for both the pain and the love and the beauty conveyed in the film. But I realize that because it's such a highly stylized film others might not like it. If your mom has any recommendations for me (films with aging themes -- midlife and late adulthood -- I'd love to double check that I have them listed, and if I haven't seen one of your mother's favorite films with aging themes, I'll move it to the top of my queue!