Netflix has done it again. Following films such as the extraordinary The Sessions, about a severely disabled man gaining sexual experience, and the less-successful-but-still-significant Speechless, the ABC sitcom featuring a boy with Cerebral Palsy (played by an actor with C.P), as well as its own Special, a remarkable comedy series about a young gay man with C.P (played by a gay actor, yes, with C.P), the online network has now come up with 37 Seconds, a most adventurous film from Japan.
37 Seconds tells the story of Yuma, a young woman with a beautifully expressive face and always bright smile who has C.P, uses a motorized wheelchair, lives with her smothering single mother and is a manga artist. Tired of being the hidden assistant to an anime artist and “You-Tube sensation,” Yuma tries to sells her work to an adult anime publication but is told by a kind-but-frank manager that she needs to have sexual experience in order for her work to be genuine.
This disappointing and daunting request leads the ever-charming, determined and fiercely independent Yuma (reportedly played by an actress with C.P) on an amazing and quite unexpected journey, far beyond her initial venture into the red-light district and encounter with a male prostitute. If this sounds heady enough, hold on to your seat. This film doesn’t hold back and is bracingly edgy and intimate
as we see right off in the first scene when Yuma’s overly protective mother, who Yuma will later fight with, helps her to undress and bathe.
Sure, this film, as with many films, glosses over pesky details (like, does Yuma really have the money to pay for a prostitute and a motel, not to mention – spoiler alert – flying to and taking the train in Thailand?). And yes, Yuma is considerably more able than I was even when I was less disabled (for instance, her speech is normal, although soft, and she has far more use of her hands, with the ability to draw, etc.).Even so, it is, once again, remarkable to see someone like me on the screen. Seeing someone who is significantly disabled – all the more, someone with Cerebral Palsy – portrayed more or less realistically gets more and more powerful. (I would have said remarkable again, but that implies something exceptional, and these portrayals are becoming less exceptional, which is what makes them so powerful.) Seeing portrayals like this is validating, liberating and empowering. (Is this another way of saying – ugh – inspiring? Okay. So be it. Also, I’m just waiting to see a character with C.P and with impaired speech who actually talks. That’s coming – no doubt.)