In the story of a man suffering the early onset of Alzheimer’s, Tsutsumi obviously has weepie material on his hands. And Lord knows the first half feels like an old-fashioned melodrama: The camera tracks in at dramatic moments, the performances are big and gestural, and the score rolls over you in waves of keening violins and cello. It’s just too much. How strange, then, that the film becomes deeply moving in the quieter second half.
Masayuki Saeki (Watanabe) is a successful ad exec of 49 who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. Masayuki and his wife, Emiko (Higuchi), conceal his illness from their daughter (Fukiishi), who is getting married in a few months; Emiko tries to get her husband through the wedding with dignity. He delivers a big emotional speech at the ceremony, effectively forcing tears to your eyes. Of course, that’s where most melodramas would roll credits.
Instead, this film follows Masayuki and Emiko as he degenerates and she, ironically, blossoms into a career to support them. The camera stops moving in for the emotional kill, and even the score settles down a bit, letting Watanabe and Higuchi explore their parallel struggles with his loss of his past and, eventually, his identity. Watanabe conveys the confusion, shame and terror Masayuki experiences as his ego is stripped away. It’s still a weepie, but the tears in the second half feel less forced.