Taller Than the Trees
Japan is a hyper-aging society. People are living longer, and the birthrate is extremely low. For a culture steeped in oya-koko, or filial piety, fewer children has led to a crisis in caregiving. Elder care has traditionally fallen to family members and specifically to daughters and daughters-in-law. With more women working, an unprecedented number of men are breaking with tradition to take hands-on caregiving responsibilities for their families. They often do so in the prime of their careers and many are unable to reconcile their devotion to family with Japan’s intensely competitive workplace culture.
In this film, we follow one of those men, Masami Hayata, whose days are spent balancing a demanding career as a Tokyo advertising executive with caring for his ailing mother and young son. I came to Hayata-san’s story as a new mother trying to navigate my own work-life balance. I had planned on savoring motherhood and letting it wash over my art. Instead, I felt stuck in triage mode, only tending to the daily demands of a two-year-old and a freelance career, missing the forest for the trees.
As part of the Harbers Storytelling Project, two years ago I heard the former United States poet laureate Billy Collins share “The Lanyard,” his poem about the debt we owe our mothers. I was captivated. In it, he riffs on a gift he made as a boy at summer camp for his mother and playfully contrasts it with the gifts his mother has given him. One of his final lines is, “the archaic truth, that you can never repay your mother.” I remember selfishly thinking that I sure hoped my son would at least try, and then remembering how lovingly my own father cared for his mother in her final decade.
两年前，我曾经听过前美国桂冠诗人比利·柯林斯(Billy Collins)分享他的诗歌《绶带》(The Lanyard)，这是哈珀斯讲故事计划(Harbers Storytelling Project)的一部分，这首诗讲述母亲对我们的恩惠。我听了深受打动。诗中他一再提起一个儿时在夏令营里给母亲做的礼物，开玩笑地把它和母亲给他的礼物作对比。这首诗的最后一行写道：“你永远无法报答母亲，这是一个古老的真理”。我记得自己当时自私地想，我当然希望儿子至少会试着报答我一下，然后又想起父亲是怎样在奶奶人生的最后十年里悉心周到地照顾她。
As I started to think about how I could explore our obligations to family through film, “Tokyo Story,” Yasujiro Ozu’s classic 1953 film, quickly came to mind. Its look at the strains of modernization on Japanese families and the quiet heartbreak of the parents in the film who felt abandoned by their children has always stayed with me. More than half a century later, the film still feels universally relevant. Japan is experiencing these pressures more acutely than ever and possibly more intensely than anywhere, but around the world so many of us must make excruciating choices between work and caring for family.
当我开始思考如何通过电影来研究家庭责任这个问题的时候，小津安二郎(Yasujiro Ozu)1953年的经典影片《东京物语》(Tokyo Story)顿时涌入脑海。片中的父母感觉被子女抛弃，影片审视了他们沉默的痛苦与日本家庭的现代化之间的张力，令我久久难以忘怀。历经半个多世纪之后，这部影片仍然具有普遍意义。在日本，这样的压力比以往更大，可能在所有地方也都变得更为严重，但在世界各地，我们当中有太多人必须在工作与照顾家庭之间做出痛苦的选择。
In both Hayata-san’s world and mine, I’m encouraged by growing support for paid family leave, talk of changing workplace cultures to make room for the personal realities of our lives and the increasing number of men who are taking the lead in family caregiving and adding their voices to the call for flexibility and support. Spending time with Hayata-san also helped me look at the demands I put on myself in a new way. Hayata-san’s days are pressure-filled, but he lives with a sense of the continuum of life and of family across generations that grounds him. I try to keep my focus on the time I engage deeply with my work and my family rather than when I miss a deadline or send my son out in the world wearing dirty socks. I hope audiences will find something personally meaningful in Hayata-san’s story and that, like Ozu and Collins, we’ve managed to take a small story and scratch at a few of the big universal themes that connect us all.