Director: Shibata Go
Starring: Masakiyo Sumida, Naozo Hotta, Mari Torii, and Toshihisa Fukunaga
From Japanese independent film maker Shibata Go, Late Bloomer was my first exposure to his work. I had no preconseptions about the film or its stars because of this unfamiliarity, aside from the promotional imagery. I write this review about 5 days post viewing because I have been mulling the film over and find it somewhat difficult to describe my honest reaction. Hopefully, the days gathering my thoughts can be conveyed well in my review. In any case, here’s the old college try.
Late Bloomer follows the story of Sumida, a disabled man suffering from cerebral palsy. He spends his time enjoying shaved ice, collecting gashopon toys, and drinking alcohol with night-time caretaker. When his daytime caretaker is replaced with a young and cute college student, the ever smiling Sumida falls in love quickly and hard. Sumida also discovers the dark side of love, as feelings of possessiveness and anger find outlets in his development into a serial killer. Finally, events come to a head when Sumida’s new found ‘hobby’ becomes more and more brazen in execution.
The beginning of the film establishes the disabled Sumida as somewhat lonely and stuck in a routine which seems adequate to occupy one’s time, if a bit unsatisfying. When his daytime caretaker is replaced with a young college girl, he gets a glimpse at the possibility of love, albeit unrequited. The first act would feel almost sweet if not for the subtle hints the director leaves as to the actual person that lies beneath the surface. When his day and evening caretakers hit it off, he quickly begins his spiral down into darkness. After disposing of his supposed rival, he finds a taste for killing and expands to random victims, with clear steps towards mania. The killer grows more and more confident with each successive murder with the audience perspective skillfully matched in intensity by the director.
The acting is surprisingly good, considering the director’s decision to use mostly non-actors and real disabled actors, lead included. There is a rawness that exists in this film that I haven’t seen lately in Japanese cinema, with its in your face style and punk rock method of direction. The film is shot almost entirely in black and white digital video. Employing quick editing and seemingly ‘interview’ like cuts and segments, Shibata tells his story in a quasi-documentary style. The music is very good, employing Japanese group World’s End Girlfriend, to provide a score that is both manic and restrained at times, whichever suits the emphasized tone of a particular scene.
In conclusion, this film is a bit of a challenge for mainstream film watchers, foreign films included, in that its presentation and style requires active viewing. The nuances included in the performances and reactions of the actors add real character to a scene and to the overall tone of the film. Shibata Go has made a film that truly has me intrigued in his future works. Trust me, he is a director to look out for as his work most definitely reminds me of a polished and younger Takashi Miike. Those of you reading this, I think that this film is absolutely worth checking out and those that decide to view it with an open mind, will be rewarded with a raw, challenging, and at times shocking film.
You may like this if you are a fan of: Audition, American Psycho, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer
Special Thanks to Tidepoint Pictures for Providing a Viewing copy!