COURTESY ELEVEN ARTS INC.
Masayuki Saeki (Ken Watanabe) and wife Emiko (Kanako Higuchi) must cope with the damage that Alzheimer's brings to a family unit in "Memories of Tomorrow."
A high-powered adman wrenched by Alzheimer's deals with a crumbling world
Those who have had firsthand experience with family members who have Alzheimer's disease will have figured out the diagnosis pretty early in this Japanese film starring Ken Watanabe. The clues are there -- the tiny accretions of memory lapse, those "senior moments" -- and they all begin to add up. When you're close to the subject, it's hard to see the entire picture. You also prefer not to see it. After all, we've all wound up in a room at one time or another wondering why we went there in the first place.
'Memories Of Tomorrow'
Opens Friday at Consolidated Ward
In "Memories of Tomorrow," the main character is someone for whom that simply doesn't happen. Masayuki Saeki (Watanabe) is a midlevel salaryman at a high-powered Tokyo advertising agency, the head of a team angling for big clients. Plus he's a detail guy, a perfectionist, a hard-charger on top of every little thing. So when he's five minutes late for a meeting, or forgets to make a call, it causes ripples. Besides, Saeki is only 49.
The stereotype of the dedicated Japanese salaryman is the fellow whose career comes before family, the man whose personality has been seconded to the corporate good, and Saeki pretty much fits the mold. Wife Emiko (Kanako Higuchi) is a stay-at-home decoration; daughter Rie (Kazue Fukiishi) is a bit of a disappointment because she's pregnant before the marriage, and besides, she's bearing a girl.
Saeki has early-onset Alzheimer's, however, and his world crumbles along with his brain. For those who have -- and who are -- experiencing this, the details are pitch-perfect, particularly the notion that those with Alzheimer's still have emotions and feelings. They're just not backed up with memories.
As Saeki, Oscar nominee Watanabe gives an extraordinary performance as a pushy control freak who's taken out of control, and his ordinary world becomes deeply frightening. Watanabe won the Japanese equivalent of the Academy Award for this rather heroic and sensitive performance last year, and for us Westerners who are used to seeing him as a commanding samurai, it's eye-opening. He is a very fine actor.
Also extraordinary is Higuchi as Emiko, who is forced to become a late-blooming family pillar and discovers reserves of emotional strength she didn't know she had.
The film is based on a novel by Hiroshi Ogiwara, which was optioned by Watanabe himself. Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi uses a few well-chosen optical effects to suggest Saeki's increasing mental isolation, but the film is not as overtly sentimental as many Japanese domestic dramas.
"Memories of Tomorrow" has incredible power even in the simplest of scenes, as when Saeki's co-workers say goodbye to him on his last day of work, and give him signed Polaroids of themselves so he won't forget them.