Wednesday, March 18, 2009

It's Movie Review Time: Late Bloomer

Dang, I can hear the huzzahs and fist-bumping from here.

Late Bloomer (2007) Japanese with English subtitles.

Sumida is a moderately disabled man living in modern Japan. He can walk a little, but mostly gets around in a motorized wheelchair. He doesn't speak, instead he communicates with gestures and uses an electronic device that speaks when he punches in strings of sylables. He works at a center for the disabled, teaching others how to adapt their lives to their disabilities. He smiles a lot and is well liked. It's remarkable how well he's adjusted to life and how natural people act and react around him.

In many ways, Sumida's life is just like yours and mine. He goes out with friends, he drinks beer and sometimes gets drunk, he watches porn when the mood strikes. He has someone who looks after him and takes care of him. Instead of a girlfriend or wife, Sumida relies on professional caregivers who come and cook and clean for him. They're more like friends and companions than hired help.

So far, Late Bloomer sounds more like a documentary than a thriller. Then, with subtle hints and a quiet word or two, the idea is placed in your mind that despite his good nature, behind the ever present smile, nobody really knows what goes on in Sumida's mind. The idea grows and you start to suspect darker motivations, and formerly normal actions now appear sinister.

This uncertainty colors the movie right to the ending credits. It's uncomfortable because you never really learn the why behind the events. Has Sumida always been capable of murder, or is it that you now know him well enough to read the tiny signs that have always been there?

Late Bloomer is filmed in black and white, making extensive use of a hand held camera. Everything about this movie - editing, special effects, musical score, shot selection and angle - is designed to keep you off balance and uncertain. The movie is closer to avant garde than classic cinema.

This flick is not for everybody. I can't even say that I enjoyed it, but my mind keeps returning to it, gnawing over scenes and details. For movie buffs and fans of the road less travelled, I recommend it. You might not like it, but you'll remember it.