By Eric Campos | April 13, 2009

Man, girls ruin everything.

This black and white, shot on digital video feature focuses on Masakiyo Sumida, a wheelchair-bound man with cerebral palsy, unable to fully take care of himself or even speak – he communicates via some sort of Speak and Spell device. Young punk rocker Take is one of Sumida’s caretakers who also doubles as his buddy as the two eat, drink, and rock out. Sumida’s other caretaker is the young, pretty college student Nobuko. She’s a friendly flirt, and her charms quickly find Sumida falling in love with her. But, of course, when Take and Nobuko meet each other, an attraction forms between the two that sends Sumida into a s**t fit homicidal rage. Struggling through life only to have his heart broken, this man cannot not take it anymore.

Sure, on the surface this Japanese film from 2004 looks like just another crush-gone-horribly-wrong type of movie, but filmmaker Gô Shibata presents us with something that’s more a tragedy than a cookie cutter thriller. During the first half of “Late Bloomer,” before all the killin’ starts, we get to liking all of the characters and nobody is really made out to be a bad guy. Yeah, there’s a little attraction between Take and Nobuko, but it’s not totally overblown and shoved in Sumida’s face, nor is it overdramatized for us, the audience. When Sumida finally snaps and begins taking lives of those around him, it’s more a tragic turn of events rather than a violent joyride.

Not that “Late Bloomer” lacks in the violence department. It’s a lazy comparison, but one that’s rather unavoidable, to say that this film has the look and feel of “Tetsuo, the Iron Man.” The storyline here is more linear, but much of the film’s imagery is of an experimental nature with frequent spastic camera moves and edits, spraying blood and, yes, the black and white. It’s still not as visually chaotic as Shinya Tsukamoto’s film, but it certainly has its spirit, as much of the chaos bubbles within Sumida until it all spills forth in a violent rage. Once it does, the killings are quite gruesome.

Helping “Late Bloomer” really stand out is that Sumida is played by a man with cerebral palsy (who shares the character’s name, to boot), and it’s obvious here that the filmmaker has great respect for him. Sumida is never portrayed as a creep or a monster. In fact, you really feel bad for the guy and not just because he’s handicapped. The whole crush and unrequited love situation is very well illustrated here. Anyone who has ever had a crush – and who hasn’t? – will feel that sick knot in their stomach growing back. It feels gross.

“Late Bloomer” offers no cheery outlook and it has very little in the way of payoff. Yes, the visuals are rich, and you get to hear a lot of really great Japanese punk rock, but this film is not meant as light entertainment. It’s a bummer. Thrill-seeking slasher fans be warned.

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