Features Live Action Movies

37 Seconds

Director – Hikari – 2019 – Japan – Cert. 15 – 115m


A wheelchair-bound, young woman manga artist struggles to become independent of her over-protective mother – on Netflix from Friday, January 31st, 2020

Yuma (Mei Kayama), wheelchair-bound with cerebral palsy from birth, lives with her mother Kyoko (Misuzo Kanno) who looks after her in a small Tokyo apartment. However Yuma is far from helpless with a day job as an uncredited manga artist who draws and writes the comics allegedly penned by fast rising YouTube star Sayaka (Minori Hagiwara). The uncomplaining Yuma secretly yearns for Sayaka’s celebrity, if not to actually be her at least to know what it feels like, but Sayaka bans her from attending any public events such as book signings.

Yuma starts exploring ways of going independent of Sayaka. She shows some work to Iketani (Shohei Uno) from Sayaka’s publishers who tells her that what she’s produced is good but alas too close to Sayaka’s work. Finding a bunch of porn manga magazines in a park, she phones around to see it the magazines are taking submissions and embarks on an erotic space opera series, lovingly rendered in a sequence which is not so much full animation but more like an animated peruse through pages of manga, only to be told when she goes to see a friendly editor Ms. Fujimoto (Yuko Itaya – The Outrage, Takeshi Kitano, 2010) (in a mostly female-staffed publishing company) that she needs to experience actual sex because her depictions in that area are unconvincing due to her lack of personal experience.

So she heads out to the fleshpots and thanks to a pimp who takes pity on her, secures 60 minutes with gigolo Hide (Eita Okuno Love & Peace, Sion Sono, 2015) at a very reasonable price. Unfortunately, she pees herself just as he’s getting her warmed up, which puts him off his game, although he’s very nice about the whole mishap. Unable to leave the building owing to a lift call button not working, she falls in with tart with a heart Mai (Makiko WatanabeForeboding, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, 2017, Still The Water, Naomi Kawase, 2014, Himizu, Sion Sono, 2011, Love Exposure, Sion Sono, 2008, The Mourning Forest, Naomi Kawase, 2007) as she accompanies her favourite client, the mobility scoooter-bound Mr. Kuma (Yoshihiko Kumashino) and enlists the help of Toshi (Shunsuke Daito Tokyo Tribe, Sion Sono, 2014) to help Yuma out of the building.

Yuma rebels against her mother. She phones Mai to help her visit a sex store to buy a dildo, after which Mai treats her to some clothes shopping, paying for everything herself. She works on her manga, drawing from the dildo. When she’s out and her mother discovers she’s not at Sayaka’s studio as Yuma claims, she goes through her room and discovers both her porn manga and the dildo. Yuma meanwhile goes out drinking with Mai, Toshi and others then comes home late and has a filthy row with her mother, telling her in no uncertain terms she can manage without her help and asserts her independence.

The next day, Yuma escapes in her wheelchair from under her mother’s nose at a hospital therapy session. Toshi puts her up. She tells him about her father and twin sister Yuka in Thailand and the pair fly to Thailand to meet them… Back home, she is reunited and reconciled with her chastened mum.

To its credit, this casts a disabled actor as a disabled person which helps no end portraying a disabled character and makes you wonder why able-bodied actors are ever called upon to play disabled parts. Kayama’s Yuma is initially lifted by the mother from one wheelchair to another, or from chair to bath. Her mother though is overprotective and suffocating.

When Yuma finally rebels, she tells her mother she can manage without her help and determinedly pulls herself along the floor to the bathroom with her bare hands. In the hospital at the therapy session, she tells the nurse that she can manage to use the lavatory without help, thank you very much, then uses the temporary freedom to escape the hospital and her mother. Moving in to Toshi’s flat (where nothing untoward takes place) she quite happily moves around the interior again pulling herself along with her hands.

The central, disabled character is treated with dignity throughout and there’s a telling early scene where one of Yuma’s series of blind dates tells her he’s fine with dating or relating to a disabled person then later fails to show up for a date at the movies. “We’re just like everyone else,” she said to him and he agreed, but clearly he didn’t really believe that.

Kyoko has a different problem: she constantly protects her daughter and worries that Yuma is incapable of looking after herself. The discovery of her daughters porn manga stash and – worse still – her dildo gives rise (no pun intended) to the film’s funniest gag when she picks up the dildo, realises what’s in her hands and drops it with a little cry, springing back in horror as if she’s just discovered a live mouse.

The movie goes through three distinct phases. The first concerns the plight of the exploited manga artist by the able-bodied Sayaka even as the latter takes the credit for Yuma’s comic artwork and script. The second covers Yuma’s voyage of sexual discovery and misadventure which arises out of her desire to be independently published which in turn leads her to the world of small, porno manga publishing houses. The third sees Yuma fall in with a small group of outsiders who befriend her and look out for her interests, providing the support she needs to stand up against her mother. (It’s only in this last section that Yuma explains the title. She was born after her sister and didn’t breathe for some 37 seconds after, which she believes is what caused her disability.)

There’s also a very nice 2D animation gag involving several frames of a drawing of little Yuma with her now absent dad.

Yet its disjointed nature and variations of mood scarcely present a problem as the engaging Kayama carries the proceedings along. The genuinely touching, brief erotic section doesn’t go anywhere while the subplot about Yuma getting a manage published in her own name is all but jettisoned despite that plot thread being resolved in Yuma’s favour at the end when Ms. Fujimoto makes a call to a colleague explaining she’s just met a new artist whose work is remarkable.

I came to this expecting a film about a manga artist: what I actually got was a compelling little fable about disability which cries out to be seen. A Netflix production, it’s had scant promotion in the UK (perhaps it fared better in Japan?) but is nevertheless well worth seeking out and watching.

37 Seconds is out on Netflix in the UK from Friday, January 31st, 2020.



Berlin Film Festival 2019

London Film Festival 2019

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