Memories of Tomorrow
NEW YORK -- "Memories of Tomorrow" is the second Alzheimer's disease-themed movie to be released recently, and like the Julie Christie starrer "Away From Her," it boasts a compelling central performance. This Japanese drama, one of its country's biggest boxoffice hits last year, stars Ken Watanabe in what will be for American audiences a distinct change of pace from his militaristic turns in such films as "The Last Samurai" and "Letters From Iwo Jima."
The actor, who also executive produced, plays Masayuki Saeki, a driven 50-year-old ad executive at the top of his professional game. As the story begins, Saeki is beginning to experience some disquieting symptoms: missing an oft-taken highway exit; forgetting the name of a favorite actor, etc. But his mental confusion soon gets worse, to the point that it starts interfering with his work.
That's when, after being prodded by his loving wife Emiko (Kanako Higuchi), he consults a doctor who informs him that he is suffering from early onset Alzheimer's. Refusing to believe the diagnosis, Saeki becomes stubbornly resistant and belligerent, but the truth soon becomes unavoidable.
In terms of themes and content, the film differs little from the standard disease-of-the-week movies that show up regularly on television. What distinguishes it are its intelligent, unsentimental screenplay, which only occasionally lapses into emotional manipulation; the assured direction by Yukihiko Tsutsumi; and the superb acting. Higuchi is deeply moving as the dutiful spouse who ironically experiences personal growth as a result of her husband's travails, and Watanabe here conveys a vulnerability that is all the more heartbreaking for the fierce intensity that precedes it.