Japan has been slow to deal with issues of the differently-abled, both in society and in cinema. When I first touched down on these shores more than 20 years ago, it was rare to see differently-abled/physically or mentally challenged people in public. While that was slow to change, “barrier free” (handicapped accessible) is now the norm, though some buildings and stations have yet to get on board. Similarly, in cinema, there were precious few Japanese films about the differently-abled up to the ‘90s. Then, that started to change, and perhaps we can view the 2004 award-winning piece Late Bloomer (Osoi Hito) as the watershed moment. This inventive work is about a wheelchair-bound cerebral palsy sufferer who is a serial killer!
A less heralded film that set the stage for that indie was the 2002 work Aiki by Daisuke Tengan (son of renowned director Shohei Imamura) about a wheelchair-bound martial artist. And more recently Doglegs (2015), a documentary about a Japanese disabled pro wrestling league which has been in existence since 1991, hit screens in Japan.
The current film, Perfect Revolution, is based on a book by Yoshihiko Kumashino, documenting his own life. Kumashino is chairman of Noir, a nonprofit corporation that supports the sexuality of disabled people and has been fighting to educate the public about the topic for decades. In his second feature, director/screenwriter Junpei Matsumoto tackles the subject matter head-on, without too much of the sentimentalism that infects many Japanese love stories.
Kuma (a wonderful Lily Franky) was born with cerebral palsy and often shunted to the margins of society. He has struggled to maintain a sex life and educate people on the needs of the handicapped, but he has often found the public perplexed. He also must deal with the odd character of Mitsu (Nana Seino), a pink-orange coiffed sex worker who suffers from a psychological disorder. Needless to say, Kuma is suspicious when they get involved and Mitsu declares her love. She often engages in flights of fancy, is this just another one?
Actor and multi-talented Franky (he’s a successful musician, writer, illustrator, designer and photographer) pulls off a tour-de-force performance, capturing both Kuma’s sensitivity and wariness while convincingly maintaining the character’s physical limitations. Seino is also compelling as the wild child that thunders into Kuma’s life.
In all, this is both an effective love story and an important cinematic event pushing on the barriers of society’s understanding and acceptance. (117 min.)