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Where EAST meets the Northwest

PAST AND PRESENT. Memories of Tomorrow, directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi, will be shown December 7 through 13 at Portlandís Living Room Theaters. The drama stars Oscar-nominee Ken Watanabe as a businessman whose family life is shattered by Alzheimerís disease. (Photo courtesy of Eleven Arts)

From The Asian Reporter, V17, #49 (December 4, 2007), page 13.

When backward is forward

Memories of Tomorrow

Directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi

Starring Ken Watanabe and Kanako Higuchi

Produced by ROAR, in associated with the Toei Company and HAPPA

By Ronault L.S. Catalani

Alzheimerís ó a startled sip of air, a quick whispered prayer ó ampuníillah, oh please Allah, not me. Thatís what happens whenever I pass that ancient Chinese couple shuffling through four inches of yellowed elm and browned maple. Leaves like discarded, disordered pages and pages of lives, their lives. Lives of that tender old man holding fast with both hands onto his empty-eyed old womanís elbow.

And not just me. Not just me scares this deep. And scurries this quick, from them. Itís hard to imagine a more unthinkable way of leaving our lives. Alzheimerís Disease. The indignity of it. The inevitability of it. The quiet terror.

And this is exactly what actor Ken Watanabe ó best known to American audiences for his Academy-Award- nominated work in The Last Samurai, and for his roles in Memoirs of a Geisha and Letters from Iwo Jima ó delivers with unadorned honestly in his latest film, Memories of Tomorrow.

Mr. Watanabe plays Masayuki Saeki, the single-minded boss of a successful section of a hungry Tokyo advertising firm. At his wifeís urging, Saeki-san sits impatiently at a polite neurologistís office. Heís hunching determinedly, focusing intently on five ordinary articles the doctor is methodically setting before him. A plaid handkerchief, a silver coin, a watch, a pen, a business card. "I want you to remember these objects," the doctor says, covering them with a couple sheets of stationary.

Saeki-san furrows his brows, he touches his forehead, he buries his terror, he glances at his wife (played by Kanako Higuchi). She nods encouragingly. Theyíre just five small things. But he guesses wrong. And so goes this film. Thereís no Hollywood miracle, no medical wonders, no heavenly intervention. Thereís no relief for those affected with Alzheimerís.

Iím here

Thatís not to say thereís no redemption in this story, a story that starts four years forward at the sunset of Mr. Saekiís illness, then restarts at the onset of his demise. Director Yukihiko Tsutsumi allows some delightful surprises, but mostly thereís sincerity, inspiring simplicity, and the certain arc of this disease process.

Thereís another certainty, anguishing moments and stumbling humanity aside ó "I will always be beside you," Saeki-sanís wife, Emiko, says. She says it with great restraint, making her love, making her promise all the more powerful. Beside you, because she cannot be him. She will be beside him. "Iím here," she says during his bouts of denial, then in his times of terror, then in his intellectual and emotional absence. Iím here. An act of firm will, of true love.

The funny part, if also the painful and profound part of Memories of Tomorrow, is that everyone gets bigger as Masayuki Saeki shrinks. His wife expands; his daughter reconciles with his bad parenting, freed to do better with her own newborn daughter. And that demanding work world ó high up that Tokyo office tower, that place where he may well have mis-invested so much life ó that thing just goes on without him. Doing what it does. Promoting other peopleís products.

For their effort, Memories of Tomorrow earned Mr. Watanabe honors for Best Leading Actor at the 2006 Japan Academy and the Hochi Awards, and won Mr. Tsutsumi the Audience Award at Germanyís 2007 CineAsia Film Festival. To learn more about Memories of Tomorrow, about cast and crew, visit <www.memoriesoftomorrowmovie.com>.

Memories of Tomorrow plays December 7 through 13 at Living Room Theaters, located at 341 S.W. Tenth Avenue in Portland. For more information, including show times, call (971) 222-2010 or visit <www.livingroomtheaters.com>.