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Review: Without Memory (Hirokazu Kore-eda, 1996)

Without Memory

Without Memory is a made-for-TV documentary about a man in Japan named Hiroshi who, after medical mistreatment following surgery, has developed Wernicke’s Encephalopathy, a memory disorder. He still remembers himself, his family, friends and life in the time before the operation, but finds it almost impossible to retain new memories, forgetting everything mere hours after it happens.

Every day, he wakes up confused and anxious, and unsure why. Every day he re-learns the details of the condition that afflicts him. The film follows his daily life, talks to him about his thoughts on his condition, and documents his interactions with his family.

Without Memory: Synopsis and Thoughts

I found Without Memory to be incredibly emotionally affecting. Hiroshi seems like a very pleasant, intelligent and articulate man, gripped by anxiety and confusion about something he cannot properly comprehend. Because he forgets, he has to learn of his condition anew every day, making it impossible for him to be able to accept what is happening to him, build on it and move forward.

He keeps a diary and constantly leaves himself notes. Photos and video are taken constantly, so that Hiroshi can document his life and look back over it with his wife, Miwa. However, none of this works in the way it normally would, the notes and photographs have no context for Hiroshi. Usually, when we look at a note or a photograph we will remember the context in which it was written or the time that it was taken, but for Hiroshi this does not happen.

A note left to Hiroshi from Miwa

Sometimes, he will recall a particular emotion associated with a given photograph or when speaking with his wife about something they had done in the recent past, but often Hiroshi recalls no image at all. On one occasion he visits the supermarket with his son, Taku. Taku carries the basket as it gets filled with fruit, chosen to meet the needs of a shopping list Hiroshi clutches in his hand as they walk around the store. Taku complains that the basket is too heavy, so Hiroshi takes it from him. The pair then take a fair bit of time looking for dried seaweed, and when they find it Hiroshi spends quite a while in consideration about which type he should buy.

After arriving home, Miwa asks what Hiroshi remembers of the outing. All he can remember is two faint feelings of emotion: a feeling that Taku shouldn’t be carrying something so heavy, and a feeling of indecision about what seawood to buy. He cannot recall what was bought without being shown the shopping list he used, and cannot recall any image of the outing at all. He tells us that often he cannot properly tell when he is dreaming, and when he is in reality. This confusing, anxious limbo is the arena in which Hiroshi now lives his life.

It’s an incredibly difficult situation, but Hiroshi’s wife Miwa handles it all with utmost patience, she never seems angry or annoyed by her husband’s memory issues, even though it must be incredibly draining to deal with. The strength and depth of her love for Hiroshi is plain to see. The pair will have the same conversations daily, with Miwa explaining to Hiroshi the nature of his condition, asking questions about his day, what he remembers, how strongly he might remember it.

There is still laughter in the household, and love, as Miwa, Hiroshi and their children try to adapt to life in the face of this rare condition. Without Memory also contains some interviews with doctors and information on the medical science of the condition, but I found these segments far less interesting than Hiroshi himself, and his family life.

The film contains many themes which would appear throughout Kore-eda’s future work. Memory, loss, acceptance, family and a system of government that fails the social requirements of its most needy citizens are hallmarks that appear variously in many of the feature films that followed Without Memory.

Without Memory: Verdict

Without Memory is emotionally affecting and touchingly, powerfully human, I would recommend it to any fans of documentary, Kore-eda, or human stories in general.

Without Memory is available to watch on YouTube in full, if it sounds at all interesting to you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3VnZ4IV7Y4

8/10

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