February 13, 2019 / 7:12 PM / 2 months ago

Sex and disability make for tenderly humorous Japanese drama

BERLIN (Reuters) - A talented young woman breaks free from an overly protective parent, explores her sexuality and forges her own, promising path in the world.

So far so conventional. But in “37 Seconds” Japanese director Hikari chose to tackle a topic that, she said, audiences in her country were reluctant to embrace. Her protagonist, played by amateur actress Mei Kayama, has cerebral palsy.

“Every culture has something they don’t want to talk about,” Hikari, who goes by one name only, told Reuters. “People with a disability and their sexuality is definitely not something that people would talk about in Japan.”

The film, one of about 400 showing at the Berlin Film Festival, has been well-received by audiences captivated by Mei’s portrayal of 27-year-old Yuma Takada, a talented artist who wants to make her name in manga, or Japanese graphic novels.

A sympathetic magazine editor (Yuka Itaya) tells her her art is technically proficient but betrays her lack of worldly experience. Criticizing her depictions of sex as unconvincing, she tells the young, wheelchair-bound woman to lose her virginity and then return.

Handled less deftly, such a premise could be crass. But Mei’s portrayal of an ambitious young woman throwing herself into the Tokyo night over the fearful objections of her mother (Misuzu Kanno) is by turns hilarious and tender.

“I feel like with this kind of movie oftentimes once it goes too far it becomes too dramatic. It’s sometimes difficult to keep watching,” said Hikari.

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