37 Seconds Review: This Japanese film Is an Absolute Gem

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Rating: ****(4 stars)

Cinema all over the world is turning to repair rather than despair. Films about healing and kindness are  much in vogue. And  thank God  for that!  This Japanese gem  about a cerebral  palsy-stricken wheel-chaired strong-willed  animation artiste’s journey from dependency to  freedom, is so filled with humanism and compassion  that  it could easily have become  a flouncy syrupy celebration of schmaltz.

 37 Seconds (the title refers to the  time that  the heroine stopped breathing when she was born) is something far more vital than a mere motivational emotion picture. It  is so stripped of preaching that it effortlessly ends  up giving us lessons in hope at a time when the world is filled with utter despair.

When we first meet Yuma (Mei Kayama) she is wheeling her way home to her mother’s fortress-like protectiveness. It’s the only way a girl destined to disability can survive….or is it? This delicately drawn sketch of life seen from  ground-level is so filled with surprises and with such warmth and humour that the theme of  self-discovery acquires dilating tantalizing dimensions never seen in films  about physically-mentally challenged heroes.

It is refreshing to see  the writer-director draw conscious attention to Yuma’s body.  By doing so, the  film reminds us that the physically  disabled have normal  carnal cravings. In Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Black the sexually famished disabled girl(played by Rani Mukerji)  asks her aging tutor(Amitabh Bachchan) to kiss her as she has never experienced any sexual gratification.

In 37 Seconds, Yuma buys the services of  kind warm-hearted gigolo who tries to fulfil her need with gratifying empathy. The sequence is at once acutely poignant and pointedly funny. There is a sexual unabashedness about the film I’ve never seen before. Yuma is seen naked more than once. Just because she can’t walk doesn’t mean her libido can’t think. Yuma, the wonder woman  on a wheelchair wants  the sex  so she  could be more experienced as a writer. Her  propulsive  catalyst  is a ebullient  unrepentant surprisingly sophisticated sex worker Mai (Makiko Watanabe) who exudes an  easy grace and  an boundless genorosity.

I am  surprised at how  much kindness Yuma  encounters in her journey into  self-awakening. In real  life it is not so  easy for  a disabled to find kindness let alone compassion.Writer-director Hikari  purports to throw open the  doors and windows of our hearts with an overwhelming  idealism that  never gets oppressive, even when Yuma meets her Prince Charming Toshiya(Shunsuke Daito) who wheels her around, almost to the end  of the world. Yes, they sleep together. But  they have no sex.

The  film’s  build-up towards Yuma’s  a full flowering is  achieved  through scenes that are constructed with  care and affection. In one stormy confrontation sequence with her  harried but ever-smiling mother(played  by the  brilliant Musuzu Kanno) Yuma accuses the  mother  of using her  daughter’s disability to  imprison her  emotionally.  It is  a  devastating moment  of confrontational  ugliness in a  film wholeheartedly devoted  to  selling hope in a supermarket  of  despondency.

37 Seconds  has  a multiplicity of brilliant  sequences which you will find discussing with friends  for a  very long time. It questions every normally-abled person’s  responsibility towards  those who are  handicapped, But  it doesn’t enjoy making us feel guilty.