Apologia for these journals:
They are not about taking care of a relative with moderate to severe Alzheimer's/senile dementia.
For an explanation of what these journals are about, click the link above.
For internet sources that are about caring for relatives with moderate to severe
Alzheimer's/senile dementia, click through the Honorable Alzheimer's Blogs in my
links section to the right.
Yesterday I watched a movie that I now consider...
...the best and most extraordinary cinema revelation about relationships in families that include Ancient Ones: Tokyo Story. I stumbled across it because I have an affection for Japanese cinema and Netflix' cyberbot, noticing this, recommended the movie. The brief description was intriguing: "Director Yasujiro Ozu focuses on an elderly couple in post-World War II Japan who travel to Tokyo to visit their children. The parents are received coldly by their two children; the only one who is happy to see them is their widowed daughter-in-law. The children shuttle their aging parents off to a health spa in an attempt to get them out of the way, a decision that could come back to haunt them."
Yesterday I discovered that the movie is so much more than the abbreviated, inaccurate description. I was so touched by the movie that, for the first time since I've been watching DVD productions of movies, I turned on the commentary while watching the movie a second time, partly because it seemed to me that the English subtitles were unfair to many of the subtleties inherent in the Japanese conversation and I wanted to know more. Not only was I right about that and satisfied with the further information the commentary provided, I discovered that Roger Ebert's review, to which I've linked the title of the movie above, captures the intent and tone of the movie much better than anything I've read about it since my viewing, despite a few inaccuracies: The camera, for instance, actually moves twice in the movie, rather than once, both movements being important and startling; and the entire family does not attend the tour bus outing...only the parents and the widowed daughter-in-law. A salient point is made, in fact, by the absence of the other family members on this tour.
I learned through the commentary that Ozu, the conceptualist and director of this movie, considered Tokyo Story his "most melodramatic movie" within a body of work that is decidedly not melodramatic. The melodrama is subtle, though, and excused during the final scenes of the movie as a reflection of the melodrama individuals tend to use as a daily filter while considering events of the day, or previous months or years. At the end of this movie there are no good nor bad characters, no one receives a narrative comeuppance and the character we've come to view as the most virtuous, Noriko, the widowed daughter-in-law, reveals her understanding that she considers herself, for good reason, no better than the character we've come to view as the least virtuous, Shige. The character who is most disturbed by the actions of her siblings, the youngest daughter Kyoko, an unmarried schoolteacher living with her parents, is shown to be harboring the fierce judgment of youth, a judgment that is simultaneously defended and criticized by Noriko. The narrative, we come to understand, is fairly inevitable. Much of what we decide or refuse to feel and do in regard to not only our relationships with our Ancient Ones but with our peers and our Young Ones exists within the complicated and often confounding interweave that is our lives. Maybe we can do better but maybe we can't.
The movie was released in 1953. Aspects of Japan's recovery from WWII and the effect of this recovery on traditional culture are primary but, viewed against the backdrop of today's world, are beside the point. Everything about contemporary life that renders extended family relationships, as well as the safety net we imagine they used to offer, challenging, if not downright impossible, is in this movie: Geographical distance; the political desires of a nation versus the social desires of a family; workplace status and demands versus family status and demands; traditional beliefs versus reality; accelerated change and how it affects not only what we are able to do with our lives but our desires and dreams.
Despite this, the movie is far from depressing or dictatorial. As I watched I was reminded of the times, while being my mother's companion, when I so badly needed my own space that I would go on "vacation", even while remaining her companion and caregiver, one of which is discussed here. It reminded me of the bubbles of family resentment that would occasionally rise to the surface and cause me to confront issues that I knew could be resolved or settle myself with my situation in a psuedo-Zen fashion that allowed me to, yet again, accept the situation, even be glad for it. It reminded me of the times when, for a variety of reasons, I felt inadequate to the tasks of being my mother's companion and caregiver and of the strategies I used to cope my way out of my feelings of inadequacy. Most importantly, it reminded me of the many, many times I attempted to question my involvement in my mother's life from her point of view and repeatedly rededicated myself to the idea that the situation we created was the best for her...and me. The movie brought to mind two important questions that remain unanswered to my satisfaction: Was I ever right? Was I ever wrong?
We tell ourselves so many stories about family and community: Legends about extended families and watchful communities in which everyone was included; Interpretations of modern families and seemingly dissociative communities in which everyone exists on some sort of misfitting outskirt. It is always possible to modify our behavior, for good or ill, toward family and community by scrutinizing what we think of as the reality of our lives against what we "remember" and what we ultimately want for ourselves, our family and our community. Whether it is possible to ever truly know whether we're doing "right" or "wrong", though, Tokyo Story tells us, remains a mystery. Is the loneliness that seems to plague the lives of the parents and the daughter-in-law in Tokyo Story "bad" and capable of being adequately addressed? If so, how long will this address remain viable within this family as it grows and changes? Is the attention paid to the parents by the single daughter and the widowed daughter-in-law "good" and assured in the future? It depends...it all depends...on what tomorrow brings, then that depends on the next day and the next, and yet we can never be aware of anything except what has happened and what is happening now. Even that awareness is so colored by where we are standing at any particular moment that, well, it all depends...
Of course, attention to the lives and needs of all family members is desirable, just as our well-known proverbs tell us it is, says Tokyo Story. And, yet, watching and thinking about the movie reminds me that, well, water finds its own level. We construct ways to collect or direct it to our purposes, purposes we consider important, even necessary, to life. Sometimes we are able to accomplish control of water for decades, centuries, even millennia. Our control of water alters our lives, as does our dependence on our control. Eventually, though, water flows where it will and we are bound to be caught up in it, either floating with it or struggling against it. Which is "right"? Tokyo Story tells us that we may not ever know for sure, but it's never a bad idea to examine, speculate, accept or reject and try, again; it's natural...it's life.
If you have an interest in and/or appreciation for movies about families that include elders, watch Tokyo Story. At least twice. The first time, if you are or have been a caregiver, an elder family member or have/had a caregiver within the family, you'll probably flinch from recognition of yourself in one of the archetypes. The second time, though, you are liable to consider yourself more kindly...and, as yet another proverb states, if you are kind to yourself you are much more likely to be kind to others.
All material, except that not written by me, copyright at time of posting by Gail Rae Hudson