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HomeWorld news'Great Absence': Poetic family drama follows the demise of dementia-stricken patriarch

‘Great Absence’: Poetic family drama follows the demise of dementia-stricken patriarch

Dementia has long been a recurring theme in Japanese films and TV dramas. Demographics are one reason: Japan, with its aging population, is facing a flood of senior citizens with cognitive disabilities, so filmmakers are responding to a tragedy that is increasingly happening around them.

Kei Chikaura’s dark family drama “Great Absence” is the latest domestic film to feature an Alzheimer’s-suffering protagonist. Written by Chikaura and Keita Kumano, it spares the audience no detail about the disease, reducing retired university professor Yohji Toyama (Tatsuya Fuji) from an eloquent speaker at a deceased mentor’s memorial service to a babbling, paranoid husk.

Cue-the-violin sentimentality, however, is nowhere to be seen. Instead, we see the damage he’s done to those around him through his callousness, selfishness and, in one graphically depicted incident, sexual violence. Unlike the grumpy but warmhearted old men Fuji has made a late-career specialty of, “loveable” never comes to mind as a description for this character.

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