Highly unusual spin on the serial killer/horror film mix so popular in Japan nowadays, “Late Bloomer” puts a severely disabled character in the role of the Disturbing Other. Bucking the trend of virtually all films about handicapped people (one notable exception being Korean helmer Chang Dong-lee’s “Oasis”), director Go Shibata presents a drunken, porn-watching slob who hides repressed rage beneath a perpetual grin. Primarily black-and-white, digitally shot shocker, definite fest fare, could score with niche auds on DVD.
Sumida (multiple-handicapped actor Sumida Masakiyo) lives independently with a little help from his part-time housekeeper, his punk musician friend Take (Naozo Hotta), his speech computer and his motorized scooter. Though it is later revealed he is a director in a home for the disabled, Sumida seems to spend most of his time getting drunk, attending Take’s rowdy concerts and haphazardly tooling around town.
Despite fantasy inserts of machine-gun massacres by Sumida, his fascination with toy figures toting grenade launchers, and his tendency to spell out death threats on his computer voice-box, Sumida seems adjusted to his handicaps.
The arrival of the housekeeper’s niece Nobuko (Mari Torii), who volunteers her services so she can do research for a thesis, disrupts a delicate balance: Sumida, smitten by the quiet, respectful young woman, becomes jealous of the perceived attraction between Take and Nobuko.
With Nobuko comes a whole video world. She brings tapes of her raucous college roommates. They, in turn, watch domestic scenes of Sumida shot by Nobuko, and a strange intercommunication of homevideos is established between the two households.
When Nobuko leaves, offended by Sumida’s crass sexual interest in her, her even kinkier roommate Aya (Sumiko Shirai), who has become obsessed with the tapes of Sumida, assumes Nobuko’s position and wanders through his house shooting whatever strikes her easily distracted attention.
Meanwhile, Sumida’s sexuality has taken a more sinister turn.
Pic’s best moments tend to come on the fringes of the main plot: A disgruntled poet belts out “Over the Rainbow” in Japanese while slapping the faces of his less-than-attentive audience; a frightened Nobuko receives a crude sexual proposition from Sumida via fax while her video-watching friends, in the adjoining room, boisterously watch a tape featuring one of Sumida’s death threats.
Dark, underlit pic abounds in video disjunction and handheld approximations of drunkenness, violent frenzies or imagined killing sprees. Yet these simulations of Sumida’s state of mind fail to resonate subjectively.
Shibata’s stylized black-and-white imagery, replete with pixilation, fast-forward, slow-motion and frames-within-frames, never quite adds up to a satisfying aesthetic, with pic’s quasi-documentary video immediacy and the odd rhythms imposed by Sumida’s physical limitations overriding most sense of compositional control.
Tech credits are bare-bones. Lenser Masaaki Takakura’s extremely underexposed nighttime scenes, while effective on a bigscreen, could conceivably pose problems for televised viewing.