37 Seconds tells the story of Yuma Takada (Mei Kayama), a 23-year-old woman living in Japan with cerebral palsy. She struggles to find her way as a manga artist, having recently been rejected for a gig because her sex scenes were not realistic enough. Yuma also seeks independence from her overprotective mother. To help on both fronts, one night, she surreptitiously sneaks away to try to lose her virginity. In the process, Yuma embarks on a journey of self-discovery.
“…a 23-year-old woman living in Japan with cerebral palsy…seeks independence from her overprotective mother.”
37 Seconds has won a string of awards at various film festivals, from audience awards to jury prizes. I can see why. It is one of my favorite films of the year. What makes it so extraordinary is the beautiful performance by Mei Kayama, who herself has cerebral palsy. She has such a soft-spoken tenderness and an amazing smile that it just melts your heart. At first, Yuma is unsure of herself and afraid, shy to the point of being withdrawn. But over time, she starts to make friends and gain confidence.
Kayama plays the transformation with subtlety and grace. Nothing feels scripted, and the sheer rawness of watching her life laid bare almost feels invasive. I don’t mean that in a negative way. It is just that there can be a certain indignity that comes with her condition, and we as an audience are let in on these private moments. At times it can be hard to watch, but in the end, you can’t help but form a strong bond with Yuma.