'Do You Know What My Name Is?': Film Review

Courtesy of Sendai Television
Both moving and ultimately forgettable

Naomi Kazama and Shigeru Ota's documentary chronicles a promising new course of treatment for people suffering from various forms of dementia

As the population ages the specter of Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia become increasingly pervasive. Adding some much-needed hope about this supposedly incurable disease is Naomi Kazama and Shigeru Ota's documentary chronicling the results of a new form of therapy practiced on several elderly residents of a Cleveland assisted living center. But while its subject matter makes Do You Know What My Name Is? undeniably moving at times, the film made for Japanese television has all the dramatic urgency of a promotional video.

Cloying narration from health care worker John Rodeman, who keeps popping the titular question to his aged subjects, the film is intended to introduce audiences to the treatment devised by Japanese doctor Ryuta Kawashima, who besides his medical research reaped millions for his video game designs (he donated the proceeds to charity). It essentially consists of daily 30-minute sessions in which the patients are given simple exercises in reading, writing, arithmetic and memory retention. While the approach seems fairly basic, we're informed that it has produced highly beneficial results in Japan. The film depicts its first U.S. trial at the Eliza Jennings Home in Cleveland in 2011.

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We're thus introduced to such elderly female subjects as Evelyn, Bea, Mary and Mae, whose severely impaired cognitive abilities and withdrawn natures are readily apparent. Accentuating the pathos of their situations are brief backgrounds about their younger selves, with family members often seen tearfully commenting about their mental and physical declines and such moving moments as when one elderly woman despairs about not being able to remember her children's names.  

As the film documents their therapy sessions over the course of several months, progress does seem to be evident, with the subjects exhibiting greater comprehension and the ability for greater personal interaction. As such their personalities often come amusingly to the fore, as when 93-year-old Evelyn, invited by an aide to go for a walk, tartly replies, "No, I'm very satisfied with my life."

But despite the treatment's encouraging signs, the film is dull and plodding, seemingly more designed to promote Dr. Kawashima's methods to other health care institutions than in providing a compelling cinematic experience. Viewers shouldn't be concerned that they may be suffering from incipient dementia if they find it erased from their memories shortly after watching it.

Production: Sendai Television Incorporated
Directors: Naomi Kazama, Shigeru Ota
Screenwriters: Hiroshi Takeda, Roger Pulvers
Producer: Taketo Yoshida
Executive producers: Tomoi Shihaku, Horohiko Sato
Director of photography: Jun Mizuno
Editor: Kenji Hirahara

No rating, 83 minutes

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