Shigeru Ota
Producer / Director
Bringing light to dementia patients and their families around the world.
This film explores how elderly people with dementia who had lost their ability to enjoy life were able to turn their lives around and regain their former selves thanks to a non-invasive communication method. The communication method used is the result of brain science and does not use medicine or devices. This method is the basis of this moving, true story about how elderly people suffering from dementia recovered from the so-called "blur". Even though over a century has passed since dementia first appeared in human society, there is still no common treatment. For the people around the world suffering from this illness, I wanted to share this story of hope born from Japanese brain science. This desire was the driving force behind our production of this film.
2 decades of dementia interviews
Sendai Television began interviewing dementia patients around 20 years ago. Since 1993, "Dementia Series" has been broadcast as a special segment on the news, and up until today, there have been over 80 episodes. In Miyagi Prefecture, "Sendai Symposium on Dementia" has been held consecutively for the last nine years - there have been activities like this to increase awareness since Dementia was officially recognized as a social problem. These years of research have brought to light many stories - from people who have gone wandering in the middle of the night to patients fixed to their beds, communication failure, the mental, physical and financial burden of caring for patients for their families etc. As people continue to live longer, dementia is becoming an increasingly important social problem. Dr. Ryuta Kawashima of Tohoku University shared this thought. Sendai Television began airing a current affairs program called "Catch" based on Dr. Kawashima's research in 2003 in order to introduce current research into brain function and dementia recovery strategies. That same year, a documentary called "Reading, writing and arithmetic - Dad's first steps to recovery", was produced. This was the first documentary to explore Dr. Kawashima's "Learning Therapy" method of dementia recovery. It was nominated for the 12th FNS Documentary Award.
Bringing the results of cutting edge brain science to people's living rooms
Shortly after, Sendai Television introduced "Dr. Ryuta Kawashima's Brain Gymnastics", a world first television program based on "Reading, writing and arithmetic to activate the brain", Dr. Kawashima's research, which was designed to bring simple brain training to people's living rooms. The program is still being broadcast today and has been shown over 2500 times. It has also started being aired overseas. Since 2007, I have been in charge of the production of this program, along with DVD production, Mobile games, Internet Videos and International Events and have introduced Dr. Kawashima's research at these places. The "Learning Therapy" method outlined in this film is a world first experimental method that provided the opportunity for this film.
Do you know what my name is?
After years of preparation, a nursing home in Cleveland, Ohio, USA was decided upon as the place to conduct the experimental research. Difficulties were faced, such as restrictions on interviews. We have experience facing constraints when filming documentaries in Japan, but never before had we faced an inability to hear what the heroes of the story have to say. It was at this time that we decided to work with John Rodemann, who was the registrar of the nursing home facilities and was able to accompany us during the interviews. He introduced himself in front of the dementia patients everyday and then checked five minutes later to see if they remembered his name.
John "Evelyn, Do you know what my name is ?"
Evelyn "No, I don't know !"
From this point, the magic started to appear. Around half way through the film, Evelyn, the main character, speaks directly to the camera in a moving scene. This scene is not an interview, but was filmed when Evelyn herself started talking to the camera. The fact that this moment was caught on film shows how director Kazuma established a close connection with Evelyn.
Challenges to the filmmaking.
Despite the fact that Dementia is a serious problem common to people around the world, as a local broadcaster, the programs that we produce at Sendai Television are rarely shown outside of our local area. We were very passionate about having this story be seen across Japan and around the world, and therefore decided to make a film. With the help of broadcaster Hiroshi Takeda and writer/playwright Roger Pulvers, we aimed to make a film that people around the world could emphasize with and began a process of trial and error to achieve this. We asked John Rodman to be the narrator in the film and he became the eyes through which the audience witnesses the changes of the patients. And it was with that that Sendai Television's first feature film, and first English documentary came to be.
Awards at International Film Festivals
This film was awarded the American Documentary Film Festival's highest honor, the "Award for Audience Favorite (International Film)" in April 2012. Furthermore, the film has also received positive feedback after being shown at film festivals in Berlin, Los Angeles and Cleveland etc. At one showing, there was a queue of people 100 meters long, at another, people rushed into the theatre and there was even a showing where the applause after the film continued for close to 10 minutes. These comments from a representative of The American National Alzheimer's Association were particularly moving.
"This movie has painted a true picture of Dementia. And it was a story of hope. I want this film to be seen by all families of people with Dementia, and by the young people who will create a world of care in the future."
Dementia is a problem faced all over the world
This film features a large variety of people who are facing dementia. From people who are afraid to accept that they have dementia, to people who struggle to remember the names of their children and grandchildren. It also features the change of heart that the family members and carers experience. Our cameraman, Matsumoto captured these moments with care. This film captures the truth that dementia is a problem that is shared by everyone around the world. The sights that we witnessed in Japan are now happening in the U.S. And, there is no doubt that they will occur at other places around the world in the future. That's why I want to believe that the stories of the people in this film will resonate with people all over the world, break down cultural borders and provide hope for people living with dementia.
Lastly, this film could not have been created without the hard work and cooperation of many organizations and individuals. This film is based on the research and theory of Dr. Ryuta Kawashima from Tohoku University's Institute of Cancer and Ageing, and the work of the Kumon Learning Therapy Center that helped to put this research into practice. It could also not have been created without the passion off all the staff that worked on this project. I feel profound thanks and respect toward all those who have helped create this work and I am extremely proud of what we have achieved.