Memories of Tomorrow
When American moviegoers think of Ken Watanabe, they think of the handsome, macho, Japanese star of movies like Letters from Iwo Jima, Batman Begins, Memoirs of a Geisha, and The Last Samurai. What they do not realize is that Watanabe is a well-rounded actor with over twenty years of experience in his native Japan. Memories of Tomorrow, which, unfortunately only has a minimal release here, is a good chance to experience another side of Watanabe, the dramatic one. Watanabe is Masayuki Saeki, an aggressive Japanese businessman who finds everything derailed by the early onset of Alzheimer's disease.

Saeki works at an advertising firm, where he is a tough boss but has a reputation for excellence. The beginning of Memories of Tomorrow finds him landing a large account, which requires him and his team to put even more work in than they are used to. Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi (EGG., College of Our Lives) starts things slowly, perhaps a bit too slowly. Tsutsumi wants to establish Masayuki's life before his disease, so that the audience can get a clear idea of who he was. He is married to Emiko (Kanako Higuchi, Blood Gets in Your Eyes, Crying Out in Love, in the Center of the World), and his only daughter is getting married soon. Masayuki has the respect of his employees, who also fear him a bit.

The Alzheimer's begins slowly. Masayuki begins forgetting small things here and there, and he believes that it is a result of the stress of his new project. He realizes that something is unusual when he forgets that his client changed a meeting time, causing him to be extremely late. When he and Emiko finally go to the doctor to get a diagnosis, the realization that he has Alzheimer's is devastating. Initially, Masayuki tries to cope by taking notes, but soon needs to quit his job (a restrained by powerful scene) and stay at home. This is also a large adjustment for Emiko, who was just beginning to grow in her career. Now, she has to go to work, then come home at night and care for her husband. To help him during the day, she leaves detailed notes all over the place for him to read, even as his condition worsens.

The power in Memories of Tomorrow comes from the performances of Watanabe and Higuchi and Tsutsumi's pacing.  Memories of Tomorrow moves at a leisurely pace, but it is not slow.  Instead, Tsutsumi uses the time to show the transformation that Masayuki undergoes in a manner that feels more realistic.  Rushing the story would lessen the emotional impact of the movie.  Watanabe gives a powerful performance.  He begins as a man who is confident and sure of himself, then must deal with the realization that his memory is crumbling around him.  Watanabe tries to hold it in, but every once in a while Masayuki's emotions prove too much and he has to explode.  Higuchi's performance is just as good. Memories of Tomorrow sometimes borders on the melodramatic, but never crosses that fine line into cheesines.
Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
2 hours, 2 minutes, Japanese with English subtitles.  Not Rated but contains mature themes, would probably be a PG or PG-13.

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