BERLIN - Japanese director Hikari’s “37 Seconds” won the Audience Award in the Panorama section at the Berlin Film Festival on Saturday.
The film, featuring amateur actress Mei Kayama, who has cerebral palsy, also won the International Confederation of Art Cinemas’ Art Cinema Award in the Panorama section.
In the film, Hikari chose to tackle a topic that she says audiences in Japan are reluctant to embrace.
“In a Japanese society, it is a big challenge to depict people with disabilities in a film,” Hikari said in her speech after winning the prizes.
“Every culture has something they don’t want to talk about,” said Hikari, who goes by one name. “People with a disability and their sexuality is definitely not something that people would talk about in Japan.”
The film, one of about 400 showing at the Berlin Film Festival, has been well-received by audiences captivated by Kayama’s portrayal of 23-year-old Yuma Takada, a talented artist who wants to make her name in manga.
A sympathetic magazine editor (Yuka Itaya) tells Takada her art is technically proficient but betrays her lack of worldly experience. Criticizing her depictions of sex as unconvincing, she tells the young, wheelchair-bound woman to lose her virginity and then return.
Handled less deftly, such a premise could be crass. But Kayama’s portrayal of an ambitious young woman throwing herself into the Tokyo night over the fearful objections of her mother (Misuzu Kanno) is by turns hilarious and tender.
“I feel like with this kind of movie oftentimes once it goes too far it becomes too dramatic. It’s sometimes difficult to keep watching,” said Hikari.
Israeli director Nadav Lapid’s “Synonyms,” a movie about a young Israeli man in Paris who is determined to get rid of nationality, won the Golden Bear Award for Best Film.