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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that 37 Seconds is a delicate, soulful movie about a young woman with cerebral palsy trying to take charge of her life. The Japanese film is streaming on Netflix with English subtitles. With unusual candor, Director Hikari films "Yuma," her fictional heroine played by Mei Kayama (who has cerebral palsy), in intimate detail: her daily routine (which includes nudity as she bathes), the fragile relationship with her caregiving mom, her efforts to attain independence, and her desire to explore her sexuality. The sexual aspect of Yuma's journey is featured in the middle portion of the movie and is only one factor in her coming of age. In this regard, viewers can expect several sexual sequences -- shot with restraint and sometimes humor -- including attempted sexual intercourse and masturbation. Sex workers (both male and female) are part of the story, and off-camera sexual dialogue is heard coming from a pornographic film. A scene takes place in a sex shop where sex aids are front and center. Profanity includes "f--k, "c--k," "pr--k," and "slut." Mature in its subject matter and its storytelling, the movie is a relatable, compelling portrait that will enrich older teen's awareness of and empathy for those who are different.
What's the story?
Yuma (Mei Kayama) is 23 years old, a manga artist (Japanese comics) who lives at home with her mom in 37 SECONDS. Cerebral palsy is the defining feature of Yuma's life. Her days are spent transporting herself to work as the "assistant" to a rising young manga star who exploits her, then returning home to a loving and overprotective mom (Misuzu Kanno). Knowing she wants independence, Yuma tries to sell her own work. But after futile attempts in the burgeoning manga industry (including one interview with a pornographic manga publisher), Yuma is convinced that her narrow life robs her of experiences that will make her art more authentic. It takes courage, determination, and a bit of dishonesty, but Yuma embarks upon a life-changing adventure that will take her to the city's red-light district and beyond its borders.
Is it any good?
Director Hikari is vigilant about telling this unconventional story from the protagonist's point of view; she's created a rite-of-passage tale that's enlightening and heart-rending. The performance of Mei Kayama (social work is her "day" job) is stunning and remarkable. Her openness, her lack of vanity, and the way she inhabits "Yuma" are astonishing. Other actors shine as well. Misuzu Kanno as Yuma's mother gives a nuanced, graceful performance, as does Makiko Watanabe as Mai, the successful "courtesan" who befriends her. Shunsuke Daito, who plays Toshi, a van driver who becomes her most important ally, is wonderful as well.
Toward the end of 37 Seconds, there are some twists and turns that bring melodrama to what has been largely an insightful character-driven piece. Even those scenes contribute to the heroine's evolution with humor and poignancy. Highly recommended for mature older teens and up.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the sex in 37 Seconds. Why was sexuality an important element in Yuma's story? How did the director film the sexual scenes (i.e., think about how she used her camera)? Were sexual sequences meant to be exploitative and/or titillating, or to build audience empathy and understanding for Yuma?
In what ways is Yuma a significant role model for the disabled population? In what ways is she a significant role model for able-bodied folks? What are some of the most important character strengths she exhibits?
How do movies like 37 Seconds enrich our understanding of people with disabilities, or people, in general, who are "different?" In what ways did it change your perceptions? Does this movie prove the point that art can be instructive and inspiring as well as entertaining?
- On DVD or streaming: January 31, 2020
- Cast: Mei Kayama, Misuzu Kanno, Shunsuke Daito
- Director: Hikari
- Studio: Netflix
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Friendship, Misfits and Underdogs
- Character strengths: Curiosity, Empathy, Gratitude, Perseverance
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Last updated: February 5, 2021
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