Often overlooked, the rights and agency of people with disabilities are portrayed on the big screen in a myriad of ways. But unlike most of these films, ’37 Seconds’ feels genuine as it treats the subject matter with the utmost candor and sensitivity. Moreover, it also valiantly addresses the sexual desires of its characters and adds a tinge of humor to this to make it a lot more enjoyable.
The film not only gives you the opportunity to walk in the shoes of a person who’s a victim of cerebral palsy, but it also allows you to learn a lesson or two about life in general. And that’s probably the reason why it feels so realistic almost throughout its runtime. So let’s further discuss what truly inspired filmmaker Hikari to cover such a didactic theme in her first feature film ’37 Seconds’ and what are the factors that make this film very close to reality.
What is ’37 Seconds’ About?
The film revolves around a talented 23-year-old mangaka named Yuma, who lives with cerebral palsy. While she lets her imagination run free and creates some of the most incredible manga illustrations, her cousin, Sayaka, just takes credit for all of her work. However, Yuma aspires to make a name for herself and when most publishers dismiss her work by calling it unoriginal, she decides to submit her artwork to the publisher of a hentai magazine. But even this new publisher asks her to first experience what she’s illustrating in her manga and then come back to her. Yuma ends up taking her advice a bit too seriously and embarks on a solo adventure where she learns a lot about independence, her own sexuality, and her creative potential.
Is ’37 Seconds’ Based on a True Story?
No, ’37 Seconds’ is not based on a true story but there are certain aspects of the film that evoke a sense of familiarity for many viewers. In an interview, filmmaker Hikari claimed: “As a director, I want to make this world a better place with my work. Whatever I want to put my hands on has to have a meaning.” Undeniably, she very well lives up to her words as the film does allow you to look at a whole new perspective that highlights the trials and tribulation of those with disabilities. And while it does this, the film draws a clear picture of how such individuals are still ostracized in our society.
Yuma, the protagonist, goes around trying to convince others that she’s no different from them and she also hates the fact that even at the age of 23, her mother treats her like a child. It’s these parts of ’37 Seconds’ that normalize the nature of disabilities and affirms a strong sense of empathy in you as a viewer.
Director Hikari also interviewed several women with disabilities before she even started filming the movie and this is also pretty evident in the film. One of her interview subjects was the leading actress Mei Kayama, who plays the role of Yuma. The fact that Mei actually has cerebral palsy makes her character a look a lot more natural and it’s almost like Mei is walking you through her own experiences in life. At a Q&A session held in Tokyo International Film Festival, Hikari also further explained why she cast Mei as the protagonist: “For me, there is no meaning to make this film if an able actor is sitting in a wheelchair. The primary importance was working with those who are actually struggling with their bodies.”
The film also depicts the vibrant harrowing streets of Tokyo in a very intriguing way and apart from solely revolving around the life Yuma, it also breaks free of the gender binary and represents sex workers as human beings. During her journey, Yuma comes across a sex worker who looks out for her, but at the same time, unlike her mother, she does not try to control her. This reflects on how she is able to empathize with Yuma’s urge to seek freedom as she, too, at some point, has experienced something similar.
The overarching plot of the film might revolve around the adventures of a young girl with disabilities but at the end of the day, it is all about a woman’s journey towards independence. So regardless of who you are, the film’s core theme can be relatable for you in a lot of ways.
In conclusion, the characters of ’37 Seconds’ are completely fictional but the film’s sentimental atmosphere and the spectacular performances of its entire cast make it feel far too real. And of course, Mei Kayama deserves a special mention here as she completely immerses you into the story of the film and almost makes you feel like you’re looking at her personal experiences as a bystander.
Read More: 37 Seconds Ending, Explained