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Almost Famous

Director Cameron Crowe extends his autobiographical homage to 70s rock —Risë Keller (DVD review...)

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This is the best “2.5-star film” I’ve ever reviewed for Movie Habit. It really should be 3.5 or even 6 (and then credit director Go Shibata with two stars against his next film). It is that good and yet it’s not that good. Fans of outré Japanese splatter films will want to see it , but probably for all of the wrong reasons, and folks who would never touch that kind of cinema with a 10 foot kendo stick will be staying away from a film they probably should see.

Three for All

Normal inside, damaged goods on the outside
Normal inside, damaged goods on the outside

Sumida (Masakiyo Sumida) has a major disability (I don’t know if it’s MS or CP). He can sort of walk but mainly gets around in his electric wheelchair. He can only ‘speak’ through an electronic text-to-speech device. He needs practical help from caregivers. But that doesn’t mean he’s not a big fan of his friend Take’s (Naozo Horita) punk-thrasher band and it certainly doesn’t mean that he can’t party with the band after their gigs. He likes beer and porn. Inside he’s a normal guy, outside he’s damaged goods.

Sumida falls for Nobuko (Mari Torii), a college woman who has become one of his caregivers as a class project. He thinks Take and Nobuko are getting a little too friendly, and when Nobuko spurns him, he tells her he will kill her. Now there’s a sure-fire way to dampen a budding relationship. Nobuko takes off for Osaka, and Sumida begins plotting to kill Take instead.

If Only, If Only

By this time we’re about half way through the film and slasher fans are wondering “Where’s the gore?” Hold on, it’s coming. As soon as Sumida makes his first kill, he gets a taste of the kind of empowerment he’s never had before and away we go; it’s random violence from here on out. The idea of a serial killer stalking the streets from his electric wheelchair is brilliant, and the filmmaking on one of the kills is as good as anything Hitchcock could have done.

But there’s a lot of reality mixing in with the story in Late Bloomer. The Sumida of the film is essentially the Masakiyo Sumida of real life. Naozo Horita really is in the band that we see performing with Take. The beginning of the film is more documentary than storytelling, and director Shibata says as much in an interview included in this DVD. It’s at this point I start to have problems with Late Bloomer. It can’t decide what it really wants to be, a documentary, a tragedy, a farce, or a thriller.

What we have here is just bad story telling. And that’s a shame because the potential is immense. The visuals are certainly strong and imaginative. The soundtrack is engaging. The cast is a once-in-a-lifetime meeting of non-actors. Had we had a lot less documentary and more focus on the tragedy of Sumida succumbing to his rage, Shibata would have had made an amazing film.

Or, had he taken a more exploitive route and made Sumida a wheelchair bound Hannibal Lector, Japanese splatter films would have had an all-new high-water mark of mind-bending creepiness.

Or had Shibata just made a faux-documentary of a wheel-chair rocker (a sort of Japanese “Timmy” from South Park) it would have been a better film. Instead, I walk away from Late Bloomer muttering to myself, “...if only, if only...”.

Goodbye CP, Hello Late Bloomer

In a curious postscript, I can find no mention in the DVD interviews or in any online reviews of Late Bloomer of Kazuo Hara’s 1972 documentary Goodbye CP about a group of Japanese disabled by Cerebral Palsy refusing to be marginalized by society ( and reviewed here in Movie Habit ). Are documentaries of disabled Japanese so common that it doesn’t warrant mentioning? Could Shibata have been unaware of Goodbye CP? Or is it that he was too embarrassed to make the connection? All I can say is that Late Bloomer is going on the shelf next to my copy of Goodbye CP, a two film set of a most obscure genre.

DVD Extras

There is only one extra feature: an interview with director Go Shibata. This answered some questions I had about Late Bloomer.

Picture and Sound

The picture quality is inventive and dramatic, which is to say shaky, grainy, and dark. But when it’s done intentionally, it’s OK.

How To Use This DVD

This film will broaden your horizons without regard to where your horizions used to be. Go in with an open mind.