Review: 'Memories of Tomorrow' gloomy

A movie should stand on its own, and “Memories of Tomorrow” does, but it’s closely associated — at least in this viewer’s mind — with three recent outstanding films: Sarah Polley’s “Away from Her,” Clint Eastwood’s “Letters from Iwo Jima” and Alain Corneau’s “Fear and

Trembling.”

Much like “Away from Her,” “Memories of Tomorrow” is about Alzheimer’s disease. In fact, Yukihiko Tsutsumi’s film from Hiroshi Ogiwara’s novel came out in Japan last year, at the same time Polley’s film, with Julie Christie, had its first screening in her native Canada.

No copycat business here — the two are exact contemporaries, both arriving in the U.S. this year. However, while Polley’s film is not at all what you’d expect from the topic, Tsutsumi’s is.

The star of “Iwo Jima” was Ken Watanabe, one of the best-known actors in Japan, but also known in this country from “Memoirs of a Geisha,” “Batman Begins” and “The Last Samurai.”Watanabe is the end- and be-all of “Memories of Tomorrow,” on-screen and acting up a storm for pretty much two hours straight.

“Fear and Trembling” gave a visceral, stomach-punching picture of Japan’s super-intense, near-sadistic “salaryman” mentality, a world of 18-hour days, total dependence on the job, and numerous instances of “karo-shi,” or death from overwork.

The character Watanabe plays in “Memories of Tomorrow,” a midlevel executive in a big ad agency, is on top of that cruel food chain, but is getting chewed up himself in the process, neglecting his wife (the luminous Kanako Higuchi, whose career goes back to the 1989 “Zatoichi”), his pregnant and yet-to-be-married daughter, and pretty much everything else.

Unlike the large strokes and many implied acts and facts in “Away from Her,” the onset and development of Alzheimer’s in the Japanese film is detailed, explicit, repetitive — and quite unnecessary.

One original touch is showing how the illness has a kind of positive effect on the patient, slowing down and humanizing him. After the utter humiliation of realizing his incompetence (in the single-virtue office environment), Watanabe’s character discovers life’s simple pleasures and long-neglected relationships.

These bright spots in the oncoming darkness — and Higuchi’s presence — lift the film from what otherwise would be an unrelievedly grim experience.

Memories of Tomorrow **½

Starring Ken Watanabe, Kanako Higuchi, Kenji Sakaguchi, Kazue Fukiishi

Written by Hakaru Sunamoto, Uiko Miura

Directed by Yukihiko Tsutsumi

Not rated

Running time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

Screening at the 4 Star

artsentertainmentOther Arts

Just Posted

San Francisco Giants manager Gabe Kapler, pictured in July at Oracle Park, says team members simultaneously can be “measured and calm” and “looking to push the accelerator.” (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
How Gabe Kapler sets the tone for Giants’ success with strategy, mindset

‘There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s the hands-down manager of the year’

Artist Agnieszka Pilat, pictured with Spot the Robot Dog from Boston Robotics, has a gallery show opening at Modernism. (Courtesy Agnieszka Pilat)
Screenshots of VCs, Kanye and tech parties by the Bay

In this week’s roundup, Ben Horowitz’s surprising hip-hop knowledge and the chic tech crowd at Shack15

If he secured a full term in the Senate, Newsom would become the most powerful Californian Democrat since Phil Burton at the height of his career, or maybe ever. <ins>(Kevin Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Firefighters extinguish burning material near Lake Tahoe on Sept. 3 in the wake of the Caldor Fire; environmental scientists say the huge fire is bringing to light deficiencies in forest management. <ins>(Max Whittaker/New York Times)</ins>
Cal Fire, timber industry must face an inconvenient truth

We are logging further into the wildfire and climate crisis

Speaker of the Parliament of Mongolia Gombojav Zandanshatar said his country and San Francisco face similar challenges on issues including COVID recovery and climate change.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins>
Mongolian leaders meet with tech, film leaders on city tour

‘I really want San Franciscans to meet the new Mongolian generation’

Most Read