Naoki Higashida’s deeply personal account of living with the silence of autism from a non-verbal person’s perspective was a publishing sensation. Now Higashida and four other young people with autism spectrum disorder share their accounts of living with the condition in Jerry Rothwell’s critically acclaimed documentary. The film serves as a vital supplement to the book and won both an audience award and Special Jury Prize at Sundance. 

This film contains a sequence of flashing lights which might affect customers who are susceptible to photosensitive epilepsy.

  • Year: 2020
  • Runtime: 82 minutes
  • Language: English
  • Country: United Kingdom, United States
  • Director: Jerry Rothwell
  • Editor: David Charap
  • Sound Design: Nick Ryan
  • Music: Nainita Desai

Review by Phoebe Moore

The Reason I Jump turned on its head many of the things we all think we know about autism” states David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) the man who co-translated, alongside Keiko Yoshida, Naoki Higashida’s ground-breaking book The Reason I Jump. He is entirely correct. This book, Higashida’s memoir, serves as an account of his personal experience as a non-speaking child on the Autistic spectrum. Mitchell now appears in this film version, a further form of translation, as a candid audience interlocutor providing remarkable and notable transparency about the adaptation process.

This vital story has had a journey. Primarily, in its conception from Higashida’s mind into language, then from Japanese to English and finally, page to screen with director Jerry Rothwell (How to Change the World) at the helm. The idea that this film serves as a ‘supplement’ to the book is profoundly true. What better way to understand a largely hidden world than to see and hear it through an immersive audio-visual journey? 

It makes a notable and deliberate departure from the book by incorporating four other stories of young people on the spectrum from a variety of locations all over the world: Broadstairs, England; Noida, India; Virginia, USA and Freetown, Sierra Leone. This ensures that, unlike the book, an insight into cultural differences around autism is included. This is a film about neurodiversity that achieves vital diversity in its realisation. Narrating the film and lending voice to Higashida’s words is autistic actor Jordan O’Donegan and playing the author, as a kind of silent surrogate, is Jim Fujiwara—a non-verbal person with ASD from Japan. The sound design for the film was created by Nick Ryan, a synaesthetic, whose ability to see sound, hear colour and feel tastes sounds like an enviable quality for any creative.

From the opening moments of The Reason I Jump the viewer is invited to linger on details without the aid and clutter of words. We are encouraged to contemplate and listen as waves crash into a rocky shore, while a lighthouse, like a searchlight, picks out beauty in the mundanity: stark electricity wires stand out against an egg-shell sky, grasses tease at the orange light of a window. All the while sounds of such intricate preciseness urge us to prick our ears and allow, for once, the melody of a world which we rarely listen to, wash over us in stunning clarity. Ryan deserves a Nobel for bringing brilliance to the deaf ears of neurotypicals. Using 360 degree sound design, binaural technology and synesthetic insight his work creates a vital bridging point into a unique existence.

At its core, The Reason I Jump,  brings a misunderstood ‘disability’ into such startling clarity, suggesting an absurdity that it is not in fact called an ability. It is also a lesson in how to observe, and at the very least, effectively watch films. Every telling statement made throughout the film, “repetitive things are comforting”, is proceeded with a trail of visual reminders from forgotten scenes: a brilliantly artistic Indian girl rocking backwards and forwards on her rocking chair, a buoyantly friendly blonde teenager blowing bubbles in a park, an American music lover repeatedly pressing colourful buttons on an electronic memory game. Never quite saying “I told you so”, cinematographer Ruben Woodin Dechamps quietly and wisely suggests through stark and observant close-ups “you didn’t pick up on this did you?”. For perhaps, if we can learn to watch films: to engage with them as active viewers, then maybe, just maybe, we can learn to engage with our world as active, curious citizens and receive the same sort of “permission to be alive”. That, to me, sounds like a reason to jump. This film, at its most banal, is a fully immersive journey into another world and at its most profound, a cry and a plea for human connection between us all in our extraordinary spectrum of life. 



Review by Lauren Cullen

The Reason I Jump is a stellar visual capsule of Naoki Higashida’s book of the same name. It captures the lives of non-verbal autistic people around the world with the beautiful voice over of Higashida’s book narrating the whole piece. Director, Jerry Rothwell has created an insightful and meditative piece that invites the viewer into a world many fail to understand. Sound plays a huge role in this documentary, telling a story without words. Nick Ryan, the sound designer and his team have done a fantastic job making simple sounds extraordinary by honing in on the beautiful details within them. Detail and wonder permeate every aspect of this documentary and there are huge lessons to be learned from it. Open, challenging, but full of pure wonder.
The Reason I Jump​ promotes empathy and compassion with technical excellence but more than that, using deep understanding and a group of extraordinary individuals.



Review by Conor Ryan

The Reason I Jump, based on the book by Naoki Higashida, is an inventive portrait of five autistic individuals and their day to day experiences...

This experimental documentary channels an original voice and delivers an ambient essay on autism, taking a nuanced revisionist approach that explores themes of communication and translation. Through the film’s kaleidoscopic cinematography and binaural sound, we journey into the nature of subjective reality, encountering a micro and macro world of autism. Lights, noises, words and sensations - everything is cross- examined and dissected from a fresh and urgent perspective.
Jerry Rothwell, the director, follows a trail set by his inspiring source material and charts a sensory guide to a life that is so often and so easily misunderstood. Ultimately, The Reason I Jump is an outstanding feature, a diligently crafted affair and a unique testimony that reflects the changing narrative of autism in today’s society.

Review by Liam Boland

The Reason I Jump is definitely not like any documentary that you’ve seen before and may even see again. It gives you a different perspective on the life of an autistic person and what they go through on a daily basis. Based on the book of the same name by Naoki Higashida, you learn about the relationship between austic people and movement, memories, and objects among other things. Naoki is one of very few people who are able to write about their experiences with autism, and as a result of that, he brings a lot of explanation about autism which isn’t generally known.

The documentary follows five very bright people with severe autism: Amrit, Joss, Ben, Emma, and Jestina. We are shown their capacity to learn and communicate with others, as well as their talents, and attitudes towards autism. The diversity among these relatively young people, ethnically and nationally, definitely works for showing the message of unity and perseverance. We get to see how different countries support or even undermine this disability. Counties such as England, The United States, and Sierra Leone. All across the globe.

It’s not only the struggles of the subjects that are highlighted, but also the struggles of the ones closest to them. Mothers, fathers, and sisters discuss the challenges that they face communicating with their loved ones, educating them, and getting others to accept them for who they are. The subject matter is deeply engaging and can get quite emotional at times.

But aside from its educational value, the film also flourishes in it’s beautiful cinematography and editing which helps us visulise the inner brain of austic people. Ruben Woodin Dechamps, director of photography captures every moment impeccably. Documenting people is hard enough without finding a way to incorporate emotion into the scene, but Ruben manages it really well. The b-roll he gathers is always very visually appealing and helps transition scenes considerably.

There are certainly particular moments that stand out for their good editing, such as when a video of Joss kicking his father during a meltdown is immediately matched with the two of them laughing and being close. The editor, David Charap, lets shots linger also for longer than they normally would in other documentaries, yet the film never feels slow. This works to the narrative’s advantage when illustrating how long it takes for autistic people to communicate in real time, letting impactful moments set in, and just making us feel connected to these people. 

The documentary is definitely a faithful adaptation as parts of the book are even spoken by actor Jordan O’Donegan in a delightful manner, connecting what he says to what the subjects in the documentary are doing. However, the voiceover is only one aspect of the sound design that is well done. Nick Ryan, the sound designer, really makes you feel immersed in the film with every sequence you watch. Sounds of nearby noises, or noises that the subjects could be thinking of, are so perfectly added. Noises often feel like they’re elegantly moving around the room.

Jerry Rothwell’s direction of the documentary is practically flawless, the pacing of the film never drags and he captures the lives of the subjects very well. His previous documentary How to Change the World shares similar moments where videos that the subjects recorded are shown in a very impactful way. No surprise that both titles have become critically acclaimed.

Rothwell grounds the film with footage of an autistic boy exploring, between sequences. Jim Fujiwara is a non-speaking autistic actor who has no problem performing and taking direction so seamlessly for such a young age. The fact that Jim has autism brings a lot of authenticity to the role, and is very refreshing from the usual standard of casting an abled actor as a character with autism.

The first example that comes to mind when I think about an abled actor misrepresenting an autistic person is in the recent film Music by singer-songwriter Sia. Maddie Ziegler plays an autistic teenager in a way that “... at times seems indistinguishable from mockery” as Teo Bugbee from the New York times put it. It also promotes the lethal idea of sitting on autistic people when they are experiencing meltdowns. Whereas The Reason I jump highlights the proper method to deal with meltdowns, which is to wait patiently for them to stop.

Everyone will come away from this documentary with something different, but for most, it will be understanding that they wish they had had sooner.