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Memories of Tomorrow
Memories of Tomorrow

Ken Watanabe in Memories of Tomorrow.
Japanese: 明日の記憶  
Year: 2006  
Director: Yukihiko Tsutsumi  
  Writer: Hakaru Sunamoto, Uiko Miura, Hiroshi Ogiwara (novel)
  Cast: Ken Watanabe, Kanako Higuchi, Kazue Fukiishi, Teruyuki Kagawa, Kenji Sakaguchi, Asami Mizukawa, Noritake Kinashi, Mitsuhiro Oikawa, Eriko Watanabe, Hideji Otaki
  The Skinny: This drama about Alzheimer's disease features a major award-winning performance from Ken Watanabe, who also served as executive producer. The film is pretty good, too.
Kevin Ma:

After three years in Hollywood and an Academy Award nomination, Japanese actor Ken Watanabe could've chosen to star in any high-profile blockbuster he wished. Instead, he used his star power to bring the novel Memories of Tomorrow to the big screen as not only its star, but also its executive producer. A project like this does require that level of star power - a heartbreaking story about a middle-aged man succumbing to early-onset Alzheimer's, Memories of Tomorrow is not quite like your typical movie-of-the-week illness film. It does induce tears, but it rarely does so manipulatively; it offers a great leading performance, but rarely at the expense of solid supporting performances; and best of all, it offers hope, but rarely does so at the expense of reality.

Watanabe was 46 years old when he made Memories of Tomorrow, making the subject even timelier for the actor, who once fought and won his own battle against leukemia. Here, he plays the 49-year-old Masayuki Saeki, a successful middle-management ad executive who has spent half his life devoted to his work. However, his career comes at the expense of his family, particularly long-suffering wife Emiko (Kanako Higuchi) and daughter Rie (Kazue Fukiishi). Just as his team gets a big account, the symptoms start showing: a headache here and there, forgetting who starred in Titanic, and missing a highway exit. When he forgets an important business meeting for the first time in his career, he starts looking at medical books and the symptoms seem to point to depression, possibly on the account that his daughter is pregnant out of wedlock.

But when Emiko starts noticing his forgetfulness, she takes him to a doctor, who tells him that he has early-onset Alzheimer's, which shares the same symptoms as depression. At first, Masayuki is devastated, but his hard exterior will not let him fall victim to it. Hiding the truth from his company, he stubbornly continues to go to work, drawing his co-workers' faces on their name cards and cramming little notes into his pockets. However, he is eventually forced to take a lower position with a smaller pension package because of his refusal to retire before his daughter's wedding. Meanwhile, Emiko sticks by him every step of the way, even taking a full-time job for the first time in her married life to support the family. Despite her selfless care, there's no cure for the disease, and Masayuki will eventually lose all his memories as time goes on, no matter how hard he tries to hang onto them.

Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi (working with writers Hakaru Sunamoto and Uiko Miura, who adapted from Hiroshi Ogiwara's novel) thankfully tones down the overwrought drama most of the time, rarely resorting to long-winded drama-style monologues. The drama largely comes from the raw emotions displayed by stars Watanabe and Higuchi. This is Watanabe's movie, and he shows it with a brave performance (worthy of five acting awards and counting) that blends the usual masculine stubbornness with a gradual, bitter resignation and guilt. While he does overact at times, his performance is undeniably powerful. Just watch the scene in which he undergoes a memory test that he slowly fails; the fear and frustration that he displays in that 5-minute segment easily shows how he earned so many awards. Faring equally well is Higuchi, who convincingly portrays Emiko as a fighter who stands by her husband regardless of his condition, even though the character sometimes seems too good to be true.

Along with the performances, the script is also well structured. By starting in the year 2010, when Masayuki has already succumbed to his disease, the film offers the audience no illusions of some type of miracle. Instead, the film asks us to grow as his character does, learning to appreciate the discoveries he makes in his new life and to sympathize with his challenges as well. While the script does go into Masayuki's past neglect of his family, it stays in reality, presenting familial relationships that have nothing to do with reciprocity. In Emiko's mind, she has to support her husband, no matter what he has done in the past. Despite the potential for melodrama in the premise of the film, Tsutsumi dramatizes events only to depict their effect on the person, not to push for audience reaction. As a result, Memories of Tomorrow is a heartbreaking drama not because it knows how to make audiences cry, but because it knows how to make audiences feel. The film could've easily been an acting showcase for Ken Watanabe, who has never had a true starring role before this film. Fortunately, the resulting product ended up being so much more. (Kevin Ma 2008)


DVD (Hong Kong)
Region 3 NTSC
Panorama Distributions
16x9 Anamorphic Widescreen
Original Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
Removable English and Chinese Subtitles

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