Published Sep 23, 201937 Seconds, director HIKARI's feature debut, offers a heartfelt coming-of-age story from an underrepresented perspective. Despite meandering storytelling, 37 Seconds goes deep on exploring disability, and does so with a film that excels in representation and exposition.
The film stars Mei Kayama as Yuma, a manga artist with cerebral palsy who's been relegated to ghostwriter status by her famous partner as a result of her disability. When attempting to make a name for herself in the pornographic world of hentai, she's asked by an interested publisher to have sex first, to make her scenes more realistic.
The film wisely avoids making the film about Yuma's journey of sexual discovery — though it is touched on throughout, the film doesn't lose sight of its full goal, which is to explore Yuma's desire for autonomy. HIKARI's script showcases the discrimination and condescension Yuma faces on a daily basis, with obstacles like an overprotective mother and domineering boss getting in the way of Yuma simply being herself.
Despite an eccentric cast of characters, including Misuzu Kanno as her overprotective mother and Makiko Watanabe as a caring escort, Kayama's Yuma carries the film with her warm, moving performance. Her particular set of struggles are shown through a relatable lens without losing the specificity of her perspective.
The film's plotting comes off as very linear, moving from obstacle to obstacle without resolving or acknowledging what's come before it. While its habit of introducing new elements continues well into the film's final act, the film ultimately resolves as much as necessary to connect its explorations of growth with its heartfelt depiction of Yuma's daily life.