Cinema Signal:

The Alzheimer's Sourcebook for Caregivers
by Frena Gray-Davidson
. "Memories of Tomorrow"
Aka: "Ashita no kioku" (literally, "remembering for tomorrow" or "tomorrow's memories.")

The primary reason to see this Japanese film is for another look at the charismatic actor who is a virtual film god in his country and can pretty much do no wrong, Ken Watanabe (write me if you disagree). After America's growing interest in him for heroic and memorable roles ("The Last Samurai," "Batman Begins," "Memoirs of a Geisha") movie cineastes who follow actors' careers will likely get something from seeing him in a modest average-citizen role, affording another perspective on his talent range in a home-grown cinema vehicle that he personally felt strongly enough about to co-produce.

Masayuki Saeki (Watanabe) is a highly successful advertising executive who has just landed a big, important client for his firm. But, as plans and designs are being developed for the ad campaign, he begins to forget things. Sometimes minor things, but sometimes critical, like the changed day and time for a vital meeting.

The problem isn't temporary and doesn't go away. It progresses enough to affect every part of his life, including the personal side. His caring wife Emiko (Kanako Higuchi) and daughter Rie (Kazue Fukiishi), who is pregnant and planning her wedding, begin to notice a change in husband and dad. When he can no longer ignore it, or call it unimportant, he responds to his Emiko's urging and, together, they consult a specialist in neurological disorders. After a series of tests, the diagnosis is early-onset Alzheimer's.

After utterly losing it to the point of considering suicide, and needing more and more help to perform his duties, he retires, manages to deliver a speech at the wedding, and falls into the lonely life of following Emiko's daily notes while she's off at the new job she's taken in order to support them. She is nothing but dedicated, a perfect Japanese wife, ready to accept anything and adjust to the increasingly alarming symptoms of Mayasuki's disorder.

One gets the impression that every base was covered by screenwriter Hakaru Sunamoto who adapted from a novel by Hiroshi Ogiwara, showing more efficiency than imagination. The importance of bringing this very ubiquitous disease to people's attention through drama is very worthwhile, and the awareness that it can occur early in one's life is an eye-opener. But storytelling imagination here is less than world class in director Yukihiko Tsutsumi's disease of the week effort and not likely to inspire substantial attention beyond Japanese shores.

Higuchi's strange outpouring of grief and accusation comes out of left field later in the developments, rising to melodrama for a minute and seeming like an insertion to satisfy an actress' need to show some vigorous emoting. There is also a coda tacked onto what feels like a last act, as though a further injection of irony and regret is needed to satiate the home audience. All of which shows an unsteady hand at the wheel.

Watanabe is, as expected, as involved in the role as he was as General Tadamichi Kuribayashi in "Letters From Iwo Jima" but on a far more personal scale. In fact, his desire to make a movie about a dreaded disease may stem from the fact that he, himself, suffers from hepatitis C, which he revealed in his autobiography "Dare? - Who Am I." He fulfills his role here in a meritorious way, but the film isn't exactly deserving of a medal.

Film was released in Japan May, 2006 and awaits U.S. distribution. It has, rather audaciously, been submitted for Academy Award consideration. America may love Ken Watanabe, but not that much!

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

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