by Paul Knoll
Directed by Yukihiki Tsutsumi. Written by Hakaru Sunamoto and Uiko Miura. Based on the novel by Hiroshi Ogiwara. Starring Ken Watanabe and Kanoko Higuchi.
Films about Alzheimer's sufferers are probably not high on the list of those you're willing to plop down eight bucks to see, The Notebook (2004) and Away From Her (2006) notwithstanding. But Memories of Tomorrow is executive produced by its star Ken Watanabe (The Last Samurai, Letters from Iwo Jima). Watanabe's great performance and a tightly written script help to bolster this depressingly-themed film. It manages to strike the right emotional chords without overromanticizing the impact of Alzheimer's disease.
Memories starts rocky, though. It's autumn 2010 and Masayuki Saeki (Watanabe) stares blankly out a window at a stunningly beautiful, yet wildly unrealistic, sunset. A woman prepares tea and sets a bulletin board of family photos labeled with Post-It notes in front of him. As the score's string section swells and the two stare off into distance, it starts to resemble a Hallmark commercial.
Flashback six years earlier and Saeki is a 49-year-old workaholic ad exec who's just scored a major account for a new campaign. His staff respects and admires him despite his gruff exterior. He has a devoted wife named Emiko (Kanoko Higuchi) and a rebellious daughter who's pregnant and unmarried.
At first, Saeki seems to be working too hard; he can't remember a few names, has headaches and misses a freeway exit. He soon forgets an important meeting (a first for him) and begins purchasing multiple cans of the same shaving cream. A doctor's simple and routine memory test becomes a humiliating experience and when an MRI confirms his early stages of Alzheimer's, Saeki rages against the diagnosis. He quickly realizes his short-term goals are about all he has left to accomplish: stick it out at work until his daughter gets married, retire without co-workers suspecting he's sick and spend time with his soon to be born grandchild.
Any fears of this movie being a glossy feel-good disease-of-the-week flick vanish pretty soon. Saeki's decline is depicted honestly and gruelingly. What Memories gets right is the toll Alzheimer's takes on everyone. Saintly Emiko gives her husband unwavering support — she's in her 40s and faces the overwhelming task of having to find a job to support them. It's a devastating moment when this long-suffering wife finally reaches her breaking point.
It's difficult for a film like this to not feel sentimental, but the two lead performances keep it from becoming a grossly manipulative experience. As good as Watanabe is, it's Higuchi who really shines. She manages to express grief and loss through fake smiles and false optimism. With its solid direction and empathetic exploration, Memories overcomes pitfalls one might expect from a tearjerker — and yes, it is a tearjerker.
Opens Friday, Sept. 7, exclusively at the SR Movies Novi Towncenter 8, 26085 Town Center Dr, Novi; 248- 465-SHOW.
Opens Friday, Sept. 7, exclusively at the SR Movies Novi Towncenter 8, 26085 Town Center Dr, Novi; 248-465-SHOW.