Netflix UK film review: 37 Seconds
Ivan Radford | On 02, Feb 2020Reading time: 2 mins
Cast: Mei Kayama, Makiko Watanabe, Minori Hagiwara, Shizuka Ishibashi
Watch 37 Seconds online in the UK: Netflix UK
Newcomer Mei Kayama is sensational in this charming coming-of-age comedy, which sees her play Yuma, a manga artist with a boss who takes advantage of her and a mother who won’t give her breathing space. The thing that ties them together? The fact that she has cerebral palsy. But Yuma doesn’t let that condition define her, and 37 Seconds follows her lead.
At first, Yuma is suffocated by those around her. The more she tries to be independent, the more her mother fearfully holds onto her baby – Misuzu Kanno is fantastic as the protective mother, and the film manages to find subtle shades of grey in the line between their relationship being supportive and toxic, as Kanna invites sympathy as much as disapproval. Equally well observed is Yuma’s painful relationship with Sayaka (a brilliantly loathsome Minori Hagiwara), the self-centred friend and employer who is more concerned with her followers on social media than Yuma’s feelings – and doesn’t hesitate to take credit for all of Yuma’s drawings.
And so Yuma strikes out on her own, hoping to find work at an adult manga publishing house. To make her work more convincing, though, she needs experience in the bedroom. That leads her to the unlikeliest of places: the red-light district where she crosses paths with a sex worker (a delightful Makiko Watanabe). She takes Yuma under her wing, and they start to tour the town, accompanied by her best client – an equally hilarious Yoshihiko Kumashino – and they go everywhere from clothes shops and drag bars to karaoke clubs.
If that sounds like a racy outing, what’s surprising about 37 Seconds is how thoughtful it is, moving from its starting point to become a touching meditation on family and communication. That applies as much to communication in the bedroom as it does in the workplace and home – the movie wonderfully doesn’t deny its protagonist a sexual curiosity because she’s in a wheelchair.
Throughout, Mae Kayama is sensational, bursting with charisma, frustration and laughter. She guides us through awkward embarrassment and pained shame, but also carries a youthful innocence and unrelenting optimism that’s irresistibly uplifting to behold. The result grows from what appears to be a familiar story, packed with gentle insight, into an increasingly unpredictable one, which goes from surprise to surprise with eye-opening, heart-warming joy. That’s a superb achievement for writer-director Hikari, making their feature debut, with the tone impeccably balanced throughout. Given a worldwide release online by Netflix, 37 Seconds is a frank, moving and magical film that deserves to be seen by the wisest possible audience. Watch it, then tell everyone else to do the same.
37 Seconds is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.