Review – Go Shibata’s Late Bloomer
– by Robin Bougie
When I was growing up, Mom always called disabled individuals suffering from cerebral palsy “wiggly people”. It was uttered not with condescension or disrespect, but rather as an example of her unpretentious view of the world. It wasn’t until I’d left home that I clued in that much of her silly well-meaning terminology would get me confused reactions and sometimes even frowns.
That said, I’d like to point out that Go Shibata’s Late Bloomer (2004, Japan, b&w, widescreen. 83 minutes, released by Bonehouseasia.com) stars a lonely wiggly person who is passionate only about beer, pussy, and messily slashing people to death with a knife. Frown and cluck your tongue if you like, but this wiggly mental-case is out for blood.
Masakiyo Sumida’s daily routine of drinking, bookin’ around town on his scooter, jerking off to porn, buying army soldiers out of vending machines, and being fed and tucked in by his various caretakers soon unravels into madness when he falls prey to a hopeless crush on a pretty college student/caregiver named Nobuko.
Clearly made on a minimal budget, the movie plays out like a documentary, as the star has the same name, handicap, motorized wheelchair, and keyboard-operated speech aid as the character he plays. In fact, being a non-actor (who wasn’t even informed what the movie would be about until he arrived on set and got in front of the camera), aside from all the killing and unrelenting evil, it seems Sumida isn’t acting at all.
The aforementioned delirium of murderous rage manifests itself on the main character about halfway through the movie, and unfortunately lacks solid justification. The lonely and alienated world of the handicapped is a ripe peach of a background for a serial killer, but Shibata really doesn’t find a way to make us feel that breaking point being hit. One can piece together that Sumida’s unreciprocated desire for Nobuko drives him psycho as she starts spending her free time with another caretaker named Take, but this revelation doesn’t grab you by the nuts and spit in your face like it want it to. Sumida has the same wonky flatline grin when he’s happy, sad, horny, and slashing a throat. This works to keep the audience off-balance, but takes away from Sumida’s ability to have any kind of believable character arc.
Shibata wants us to consider the feelings and emotions of those who are different than we are. To not be so judgmental of others. Much like Crispin Glover’s film What Is It? (cast primarily with Down syndrome performers), this is a quirky, off-putting movie that took multiple years to complete, and is actively dedicated to forcing able-bodied audiences to re-evaluate their prejudices toward the handicapped. In that respect it succeeds – with festival critics hailing it as a cross between Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer and My Left Foot.
Unfortunately, Late Bloomer doesn’t have enough legs to wiggle out from underneath that limited gimmick and provide what it should: interesting plot twists, and some fucking scares.