Review by Joseph Fayed
The most intimate documentaries are ones filmed by those with a personal connection to the subject. Director Rea Tajiri has discussed at length her family's experiences in Japanese Internment camps in her previous work; now, she is focusing specifically on her mother. Wisdom Gone Wild takes her mom's story and the harsh truths of it and balances it perfectly with lighthearted moments.
Rose Tajiri, mother of filmmaker Rea, is nearing the end of her life and is suffering from dementia. Compiled using various home videos from different time periods, the documentary paints Rose's spirit as one that won't wither away, no matter how dementia affects her.
Rose's condition makes some of the retelling of her life somewhat ambiguous. Rea herself bridges that gap with key insight into the details of her mother's life. It allows us to explore her later years while also understanding the parallels to her mom's upbringing and how it has impacted Rea's relationship with her. However, in a sad twist of fate, Rea's role is extended to being a primary caretaker of her mom and essentially becoming her parent's parent. There are very few cutaways throughout the documentary, so you are seeing long sequences of her mother succumbing to her dementia. Rose's wisdom is sprinkled throughout her daily life, so nothing feels traumatic just for the sake of showing a chronic illness.
Many events in Rose's life are alluded to shaping her identity; her memories are not succinct, but there is enough story to build from them. Rea is the conversationalist who is able to get her mom to answer how she feels in her state. Rea is non-judgmental while she allows Rose to showcase her raw feelings. There is something comforting about the platform Rea opened up for her frail mother. The main themes in this are fear and inner strength being portrayed, and they're both fairly balanced. Part of this comes from the lack of historical context addressed. Not going into detail about the mistreatment Japanese Americans faced during World War II gives deeper meaning to Rose's memories. Why and how she could be the way she is are explained through Rose trying to reinvent herself — consistent throughout the film's narrative.
Wisdom Gone Wild features an unintentionally unreliable narrator and her daughter, who make for a beautiful story. This isn't a tale of dementia, as it tells you more about the passage of time and how it affects us. Sometimes, we forget what has happened; sometimes, we atone for our past or embrace it. Rose does all three as her mind enters a new state. She has accepted her new reality with as much ease as one can. We can all agree that she has a loving daughter by her side who handles her story with grace.
Wisdom Gone Wild airs on POV on November 20.