Review Contributed by Jon Jung

The Plot: Late Bloomer documents a severely disabled man, Sumida-san, who has made a life for himself hanging out with friends, drinking beer (a lot, at that), and checking out shows. In addition, Sumida-san is the director of a disabled home (as is the real-life actor, Masakiyo Sumida in a bit of verisimilitude) and well-cared for. Though this may seem like a rather content life, Sumida-san’s anger and frustration toward his disabilities provoke him to embark on a murderous rampage.

The Review: Japanese genre films have become all but pigeon-holed by scraggly-haired ghost children (Ringu, Ju-On, Dark Water) and cheesy Troma-like gore comedies (Meatball Machine, Tokyo Gore Police). In fact, with classic Kurosawa and Ozu films being of the few exceptions, Japanese movies as a whole can hardly get released without the “extreme”, “quirky”, and /or “kawaii” tags put on them. Thus, it’s not particularly surprising that Late Bloomer slightly mismarketed and packaged to look like the latest gorefest when it is actually a interesting, dark character study not unlike Taxi Driver or, even more closely related in theme, Tod Browning’s seminal 1932 shocker, Freaks.

Unfortunately, while Late Bloomer shares similar stark themes as those two classics of transgressive cinema but it does not share the same production values. I would not generally fault a director for having to work under a low budget. For example, the fact that the movie was shot in black and white seems like less of a budgetary constraint than an artistic decision. For the most part, the black and white photography is pulled off quite well in Late Bloomer; the film’s schizophrenic visual effects (a la Tetsuo) could probably not be as effective in color, for example. However, the impact of any scene involving blood was noticeably lessened. Blood on film should be visually alarming either in its color or viscosity. This should even be the case in black and white such as in Night of the Living Dead, a film whose shimmering dark blood was probably too much for the faint of heart in 1968. Late Bloomer’s sometimes languid pacing sometimes also affects the impact that the film could have had. The director sometimes shoots scenes for a little longer than they should be, but not long enough to feel intentional. One death scene, in particular, which occurs in a bathtub feels much too “matter of fact” than it should. The film could have done well with a little choice editing as well. For example, several scenes involving two sets of characters watching videos of each other to symbolize the social distance between them tended to drag, again taking away the punch of the central storyline

Negatives aside, Late Bloomer thematically is a breath of fresh air. Calling it the first movie to have a disabled protagonist might be a stretch; Born on the Fourth of July and My Left Foot come to mind as two others. However, it is one of possibly two (“Children of a Lesser God” is the other) in which the actor him or herself is disabled. With that said, the director Go Shibata does well for his subject matter by weaving the narrative around Sumida-san, never forcing us to feel one way or another about him. It would have been easy to have taken one of two overt routes and made a mean-spirited exploitation or sappy “deep down we’re all the same” message film. Overall, in fact, the film does a great job at presenting us with a character who, all said and done, is not necessarily a villain, hero, or anti-hero. Rather, the protagonist is just a guy who, through life’s misfortunes, has just taken the figurative straw that broke the camel’s back. It’s just too bad that Shibata didn’t have a better budget and slightly more experience with which to improve all the positives this film has. This is definitely a film worth watching but, as previously mentioned, this may not be for the gorehounds. But, if you have the patience and will to sit and watch a unique, somewhat artsy character study from a promising young Japanese director, then you could do worse by picking Late Bloomer up.

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