Sunday, May 10, 2015

Films about Aging in Japan and Other Asian Countries

Photo by Robert of Fairfax.
I enjoy watching films that depict the aging experience of people from other cultures.

After watching more than 180 films about aging, I have noticed a significant number of them are set in Japan.

[I anticipate making updates to this list, so check back.]

Here is a list  with mini-reviews in reverse chronology.  Enjoy!

Jiro Dreams of Sushi (2011). This documentary details the craft of an octogenarian sushi master.

Cherry Blossoms (2008). This film starts in Germany and focuses on a mature German man trying to address loss and chaos, but the film moves to Japan and shows the emotional power of Butah drama, which a young Japanese girl--also suffering loss and chaos--teaches the German man.

Departures (2008). This film won the Best Foreign Film Oscar for its year. It shows a young man working as an apprentice as a mortician, which serves as a window into many aspects of Japanese life in particular and the circle of life generally.

Riding Home for Thousands of Miles (2005). An aging Japanese fisherman loses his filmmaker son and then travels to China in an effort to complete one of his son's projects.

Firefly Dreams (2001). A young Japanese woman is rootless and troubled, but she forms a friendship with an older, grounded woman who used to be a film star.

Ran (1985). Kurosawa sets Shakespeare's King Lear in feudal Japan, which gives a glimpse into history and culture while also exploring some universals about power, family dynamics, and the insights available during late life.

Ballad of Narayama (1984).  This award-winning film is set in rural, 18th century Japan and takes some liberties in imagining the practice of abasute (depositing old family members on mountain tops to die).  Nevertheless, it adopts the point of view of an aging matriarch and how she makes use of the power available to her in order to address her family's needs.  Note, there are some explicit sex scenes that tie in with the we-live-close-to-nature themes.

Tokyo Story (1953). A rural aging couple find that their urban, modern children have no time to care for them. Director Ozu has a very elaborate and slow-paced style for telling stories. He's much revered by film makers and influenced the US film Make Way for Tomorrow and the German film Cherry Blossoms, which I detail here.

Ikiru (1952). Kurosawa tells a moving story of an older government worker questioning the meaning of his life and relationships once he's confronted with his own mortality.

Late Spring (1949). A young Japanese woman resists leaving her widowed father.

Films Set in South Korea, Taiwan, China, and in the United States

Here are some films that are related but not really a good fit in the category of films about aging in Japan.  Why don't they meet the criteria? They are about other Asian cultures that are distinct from Japanese culture in important ways (Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean), or they are about Japanese Americans.

My Love, Do Not Cross That River (2014). A documentary featuring a couple married for 76 years in the last months of their time together. The first half depicts the joys and day-to-day tasks they complete together. The second half depicts a handful of challenges they face together and alone. Review

Poetry (2010).  A mature Korean woman uses silence, reflection, patience and poetry to respond to life's difficulties, particularly her own health issues, her troubled grandson and her distant daughter.

Eat Drink Man Woman (2009). A Taiwanese widower hosts his grown daughter for dinner and as they visit they try to work out various issues, one of which is his daughter's concerns for him as he tries to manage after his wife's death.

Old Partner (2009).  A South Korean documentary about an 80 year-old farmer and his 40-year old ox.  These two have worked together daily for decades, and their lives have uncanny parallels.  Also present is the farmer's wife, who offers running commentary.  This film has won numerous awards. Review

The Cats of Mirikritani (2007). This film is about a Japanese-American man who was placed in an internment camp by the US government during WW2.

A Thousand Years of Good Prayers (2007).  A Chinese man visits his newly divorced daughter in the US after not seeing her at all since she immigrated 12 years prior. He's trying to have a relationship with her, but he experiences a number of barriers: the generation gap being only one.

King of Masks (1996). A Chinese street performer worries that his craft will be lost when he dies, so he seeks to adopt a son in order to achieve a legacy.


Films about Aging A-L


  1. Sounds like some great movies thanks so much for sharing them.

    1. Thanks for stopping by the blog. I really love some of these. Some interesting views through another cultural lens.