Poster design in Japan is a difficult art. With all the visual noise of billboards, vending machines, and guys dressed as bubble tea, it’s especially hard to make a sheet of paper stand out and get noticed. Some have succeeded, such as ones made by the Osaka police, but many have failed.
And occasionally, in an effort to get attention, these posters can go too far. Whether this latest public service announcement by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare did is currently a matter of debate.
The poster was created to raise awareness of Advanced Care Planning (ACP) which is essentially discussing and making preparations with loved ones in the event of your impending death. Everyone can agree that it is a crucially important thing to do, but people often ignore it until it is too late.
To help make the planning more palatable, the ministry has euphemistically nicknamed these discussions as “Life Meetings.” The name was chosen by a committee consisting of members such as comedian Kazutoyo Koyabu, who also lent his likeness to the promotional poster.
In the poster Koyabu plays a man about to die in a hospital and lamenting that it was not going the way he would have wanted. His thoughts are printed across the top in his characteristic Osaka dialect, which can often come across as blunt and overly casual compared to other forms of Japanese.
“Wait, wait wait, is this the end of my life? Ah, there’s some important things I didn’t say! That and my pops over there, doesn’t think I’m even conscious. I can hear him joking around with the person in the next bed, but he ain’t funny at all, man.
Ugh, this is embarrassing!
Rather than listen to dad blab on in the hospital, I’d reeeaaally rather have gone peacefully at home with my wife and kids. Awwww, I should have said so sooner.”
Afterward, the tagline reminds us all that “Before it comes to this, let’s have a Life Meeting,” and “When crisis comes, we can’t communicate our thoughts.”
It’s clear that this is an attempt to breach a very delicate topic with some light familial humor. But this combined with Koyabu’s goofy expression and mop-top hair might not hit the right notes with people who might be really involved in these kinds of situations.
There were certainly many people in Japan who felt that way and called for the poster’s removal. Twitter users, including many medical professionals, and others online came out against the ad.
“I always wonder why they don’t run these things by people who have actually dealt with this situation before making them public.”
“The government uses Yoshimoto [a comedy talent agency] way too much.”
“I wouldn’t even know if it was offensive because it’s too long to read.”
“That’s really inappropriate.”
“This poster seems like it was made by people who are not thinking about their own deaths.”
“It seems like its subtly threatening us to have ‘life meetings.'”
“It tried so hard to make an impact that it just ignored the feelings of people in this situation.”
On the other hand, some people online made the pragmatic counterargument that by being so controversial, it has excelled at its intended purpose of raising awareness for ACP. These supporters of the Koyabu poster argue that a tastefully made one would not have generated anywhere near the same buzz.
On Nov 26, the ministry suspended distribution of the 14,000 posters and other related campaigns until they consult terminal patients and health organizations. Ideally, they’ll be able to work up an ad that both respects those close to the issue and has a big enough emotional impact to reach far and wide those who have yet to face it.
Source: Asahi Shimbun, Hachima Kiko
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