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Late Bloomer - Osoi Hito (Shibata Go 2004)


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Late Bloomer
[Osoi Hito]

Genre: Realistic Spiral into Despair and Violence

review in one breath

A cerebral palsied man gradually falls in love with one of his care takers, but the emotional elation it causes brings with it a deepening despair as the gap between his dreams and physical reality prove overwhelming. In the face of unrequited love and the dismal realization that fate has dealt him a terrible hand, his imaginations grow violent -- imaginations he soon acts upon. This is a truly unique film which is both uncompromising and unapologetic in its depiction of a fully functional heart and mind trapped in a physical cage.


intro

This is really an amazing and memorable film. It is only director Go Shibata's second film, but its content, style and uniqueness clearly makes it a genre buster. Late Bloomer is being pigeon-holed into genre descriptions of "horror" or "slasher", but it is something far more and far different than merely these. Its emotions and depictions are so realistic that audience members will be forced to sympathize with and perhaps even adopt the perspective of its main character, the cerebral palsied Sumida as he slowly spirals first into despair and then toward violent release.

In all, the film took five years to complete due to budget constraints and the difficult logistics of its subject matter. For the first year and a half, Shibata and his crew found themselves simultaneouly Sumida's caretakers and filmers. This breadth of time and the insight it provided Shibata into Sumida's handicapped world and pace skillfully translate into an impressive and nuanced presentation, effectively capturing Sumida's non-verbalized emotions and thoughts.

The character of Sumida is played by Masakiyo Sumida. In many ways the character and actor are one and the same personality. Both Sumida's suffer from an extremely debilitating Cerebral Palsy which leaves him mute and significantly reliant on the care of others. His only means of communicating are through abrupt gestures and a mechanized talking machine into which he must enter sentences one syllable at a time. Late Bloomer is entirely about Sumida -- his world, his pace, his obstacles and his emotional state. As regards these, nothing in the film is contrived, artificial or hinting of fiction. It portrays Sumida's daily existence in almost a documentary's light.

And this is precisely where the undeniable strength of the film lies. It offers the audience a very real, palpable character whose physical and communicative obstacles make his patient and amiable personality all the more likable. When things start to go bad and Sumida wanders into darker territory, the viewer inevitably follows along, feeling he/she knows precisely why and how such despair emerges.

The cinematic style is rather experimental, ranging from contemplative scenery to subject-centric camera angles. It is nearly all in black and white, with a sound track by World's End Girlfriend which is as beautiful as it is unique. As a whole, I found it very moving and somewhat haunting, as both visual and audio styles blend toward a realization of a greater reality below the surface. The film has won awards during its first circuits in the Film Festivals and has even been (rather) highly reviewed my the mainstream. Roger Ebert, for example, gives it three of four stars.

story

Sumida suffers from Cerebral Palsy, which wreaks havoc on his physical body while leaving his mind and emotional state intact. His daily routine involves the help of caretakers, the closest of which is Take, a good-natured guy whose music gigs Sumida frequently attends. Enter Nobuko, a pretty college student doing her thesis on care giving and Sumida's volunteer for the next two months.

Sumida gradually falls for Nobuko, a situation through which his dreams of relationship are harshly tempered by his understanding of his physical predicament. But emotions are not so easily tamed, and when Nobuko and Take begin hitting it off, Sumida begins the long slippery slope toward despair, anger and revenge.

verdict

This is simply unlike any film you have seen. Audiences are coerced into seeing events through Sumida's eyes and the depth and breadth with which the issue of physical handicap is dealt with will stay with you long after viewing. In an approach which is neither condescending nor apologetic, the existential malaise faced by the character Sumida is front and center, all through a non-verbal presence highlighted through visual and audio stylization.

I found that this film has a layer of complexity which allows for discussion and reflection among audience members. The film has no interest in "telling" you what to think or feel. It merely wants to show you what is. Each viewer is then forced to wrestle with the content in his or her own way.

I watched this with a friend of mine who is in no way a fan of the horror genre, much less anything "slasher". But she found the film to be engaging and emotionally palpable. After it was finished I asked for her thoughts and she immediately began talking about how the Sumida character should in all fairness be "judged differently" for his horrific actions due to the circumstances of his physical nightmare. And this, I believe, is precisely the aim of director Shibata -- to draw the viewer into an experience of seeing things differently, of slowing down enough to grasp and ponder the situation of someone like Sumida whose own personal torment may spill out into society. And it is indeed Sumida's personal torment which sticks with viewers far more than the depiction or consequences of any of his actions.

This film is wholly recommendable for both its stylized presentation and truly unique subject matter. Late Bloomer will be released in March 2009 in Region 1 DVD via Facets. The DVD also includes some interesting interviews with director Shibata, Masakiyo Sumida and Naozo Hotta (who plays Take).

cultural interest violence sex strangeness
Unique film focusing wholly upon the plight and circumstance of the handicapped. Stylized depiction of graphic violence leaving little to the imagination but not crossing over into the gratuitous or distasteful. No sex, but the topic of love and relationship is a clear motivator here. This is a highly memorable and unique film. Its documentary-like approach and reliance upon utterly plausible characters are thoroughly engaging. And the mesmerizing soundtrack by World's End Girlfriend is superb.

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