A Japanese treatment for dementia patients has transformative effects on the residents of a Cleveland nursing home profiled in the moving documentary "Do You Know What My Name Is?"
The learning therapy program, devised by neuroscientist and video game developer Dr. Ryuta Kawashima, had been implemented in Japan for a decade when 23 residents of the Eliza Jennings home participated in a six-month trial program.
Co-directors Naomi Kazama and Shigeru Ota keep the camera trained on a few of the predominantly Alzheimer's-afflicted individuals in their late 80s and early 90s who took part in the 30-minute sessions, which are made up of basic reading, writing and arithmetic exercises.
The exercises may not challenge a first-grader, but that daily repetition pays surprising dividends for participants here, and not just in cognitive areas. Through the process of retraining their brains, several of the most withdrawn subjects become increasingly engaged in their surroundings and, in the case of one formerly reclusive 88-year-old, downright chatty.
Those changes, in turn, prove to alter the perception of the home's staffers. Where they were previously trained to spot signs of inevitable mental decline, they are suddenly required to assess signs of improvement.
The film is, in essence, a case study offering no outside opinions, no skeptics posing tough questions, nor dementia experts validating those onscreen results. Despite the limited scope, the documentary, made for Japanese TV, puts a smile on the lips — and hope in the heart.
"Do You Know What My Name Is?"
MPAA rating: None.
Running time: 1 hour, 23 minutes.
Playing: At Laemmle's Town Center 5, Encino.