Monday, April 13, 2009

Late Bloomer (Go Shibata, 2004)

Masakiyo Sumida as Sumida in Go Shibata's Late Bloomer (2004).

Late Bloomer is the story of Sumida, a disabled man who lives alone in a big house and whos only company is that of his two caregivers. Sumida spends most of his days driving around town on his electric scooter or drinking and going to concerts with his caregiver Take who is in a band.

Though not very able bodied due to his handicap and only being able to speak through a digital speaking device, his mind is as clear as day. He has all the same feelings and needs as everyone else but not in a simplified manner. When he's horny he watches porn, he likes to get drunk with Take and he loves women. This is not some sugar-coated story about a disabled person having to overcome a specific task, Sumida lives with the pain and frustration of understanding how he's different and not being able to express himself like everyone else, every second of each day.

When he develops a crush on a new helper, a college girl named Nobuko, things become more complicated as it turns out that Nobuko is just using Sumida for a paper she is writing. He's just like an object for her and her friends to study and exploit, and it pushes Sumida over the edge.

My first thought when I started watching Late Bloomer was to turn it off, through extreme close ups and weird angles and a style similar to that of Shinya Tsukamoto's Tetsuo - The Iron Man (1989) Sumida is made out to look like a monster. But as I hung in there I started to feel like the excessive way in which Sumida is portrayed made me question my own sense of being an unprejudiced person. Maybe it wasn't the way the filmmaker saw him, or how Nobuko and her friends saw him but also how I saw him when I started watching the film. To me it felt like the style helped in putting all of Sumida's needs and feelings of inequities against him right in the viewers face and not only make you know they were there, but to truly evaluate Sumida's complete situation and it makes it hard not to feel for him despite his actions later in the film.

Even if it's easy to see how the style might be off-putting to a lot of people, and that the film has some parts that feel superfluous even at only 83 minutes in length, Late Bloomer is a strong film that, at least, made me re-evaluate if I'm really as open-minded as I think I am.