True story or unreliable source? Film about autism skips controversy

THE REASON I JUMP ★★★

(M) 82 minutes, cinemas

The reason I jump offers an in-depth look at what it’s like to be autistic, or more specifically, what it could be like.

It is based on a book published in Japan in 2007. Naoki Higashida was about 13 years old at the time. He doesn’t speak. Working with his mother, who used a symbol board, he reportedly chose the words to describe his feelings as an autistic boy. The book was a huge success, translated by English writer David Mitchell and his wife Keiko Yoshida, who also have an autistic son.

The Reason I Jump stars Jim Fujiwara, whose presence in the film is one of many stones left unturned.

The Reason I Jump stars Jim Fujiwara, whose presence in the film is one of many stones left unturned.

The book was criticized from the start as an unreliable source. Higashida’s mother held his arm while he chose the symbols. This kind of “facilitated communication” has been denounced as pseudoscience. The conclusion is that Higashida’s mother consciously or unconsciously wrote the book. In other words, it was more of an act of empathy and love than a transcription. The questions that arise from this could occupy a symposium of psychologists for a year.

If it’s true his mother wrote it, is that all Tosh? This is important: Excerpts from the book are voiced as accompaniment in the film as we meet a number of young children living with autism around the world. A young girl in India expresses everything through vivid drawings and paintings; an agitated youth in England has happy moods turning to violence; An American boy and girl in their early 20s, friends since they were four, seem to communicate well over a letter board without anyone hanging on their arms. A young girl grows up in Sierra Leone, where ancient beliefs link autism with the devil.

We connect these stories and follow a little Japanese boy as he wanders the countryside, seemingly alone, exploring shapes and places to the sound of lengthy quotes voiced by an English actor. This beautiful little boy is not Higashida; The credits credit him as Jim Fujiwara without further explanation. A final scene suggests he may be David Mitchell’s autistic son, but that’s never made clear. It is one of many stones left unturned in the film.

The controversy surrounding the book is almost never discussed, nor is the reliability of “facilitated communication”. There is no hint of another elephant in the room: while these are Higashida’s words, they cannot simply be readily applied to all experiences of autistic children, but the film does so with carefree confidence.

https://www.smh.com.au/culture/movies/true-story-or-unreliable-source-film-about-autism-skips-controversy-20220726-p5b4qr.html?ref=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_source=rss_culture True story or unreliable source? Film about autism skips controversy

Jaclyn Diaz

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