It’s become common practice for directors and writers of western horror/suspense genres to rely merely on blood and guts to stimulate anxiety in their audiences, sacrificing clever plot lines for naked virgins. The 2004 Japanese offering “”Late Bloomer”" (Tidepoint Pictures/Bone House Asia), from director Go Shibata, employs substance rather than cheap thrills as the primary story-telling device, leaving the viewer to be consumed by several conflicting emotions. This is a logical direction for the horror genre to take, as those of us living in the 21st century have seen more than enough graphic ultra-violence. This is not to say “”Osoi Hito”", as the film is known in Japan, is tame, on the contrary, the film’s manipulation of the human emotional spectrum is at once terrifying and sympathetic, leaving the audience to ponder social norms in relation to the nature of good and evil.
Filmed in black and white, “”Late Bloomer”" tells the story of a cerebral palsy patient, Masakiyo Sumida (portrayed by the actor of the same name), falling victim to the same demons afflicting any person living in the modern world. What makes the film unique, is that where society teaches the individual to feel compassion and sympathy for those less-fortunate souls living in our midst, Shibata-san has goes out of his way in turning the disabled protagonist into what could most easily be described as a homicidal asshole. The film begins by painting a picture of Sumida’s daily life: his friends, his hobbies, the challenges of life for a CP patient, introducing the other characters as ultra-empathetic, going out of their way to include Sumida as much as possible. Still, the cute girl is bound to fall for the punk-rock guy, leaving the disabled Sumida alone with his demons, his muted vengeance free to quietly boil over. By the end of the film, it’s hard to sympathize with a character such as Sumida, regardless of any physical or psychological detriments. To the contrary, those characters falling victim to his whimsical depravities are much more easily digested; they’re not bad people. They don’t bully Sumida, they don’t take advantage of him – they seem only to want to make him feel normal. Still, the blood-lust cannot be staved, and arbitrary murders ensue. All of this triggers a very conflicted emotional response, as we are taught from birth to exude compassion when in the presence of those who are less fortunate, if not outright sympathy. “Late Bloomer” reverses this trend in demonizing the CP-stricken leading man, while demanding commiseration for the beautiful supporting characters. The resulting condition is one of self-loathing; a sensation of guilt over rooting against a disabled person. Clever.
Apart from the actual substance of the film, the performance delivered by Masakiyo Sumida is top-shelf. An actual cerebral palsy patient, Masakiyo works with the Center for Persons with Disabilities in the Kansai region of Japan, which is aimed at fighting ongoing discrimination of disabled peoples. However, through pouring beer down his face and wallowing in filth while watching porn, Masakiyo convincingly sells the depravity of his character with unflinching abandon. It’s great – this villain is of a new persuasion. The scenes depicting Sumida training his atrophied muscles to perform a stabbing motion are so completely unsettling it’s truthfully hard to sit through. Go Shibata’s use of black and white in conjunction with documentary-style film-making is very effective in creating a thoroughly uncomfortable vibe. If you have any interest in the suspense or horror genres, not to mention Japanese cinema as a whole, definitely take the time to watch “Late Bloomer”, available through Tidepoint Pictures and Bone House Asia.