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Jellyfish and Gentle Nihilism: Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Bright Future

by dave heaton

Fluorescent, translucent shapes float down a Tokyo river en masse. They are poisonous jellyfish: attractive to look at yet dangerous underneath the surface, though perhaps not really that dangerous. These jellyfish together form one of the most haunting images of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's film Bright Future (Akarui Mirai), while also serving as an aquatic counterpart to the disaffected teenagers that are the focus of the film.

The film begins as a portrait of a pair of young men who work together at a factory, Mamoru (Tadanobu Asano) and Yuji (Joh Odagiri). The two share a rebellious, cynical view about life and society, and conceal a certain anger about life that they can't articulate or control. As the film proceeds, a series of events lead to the more cryptic, stone-faced Mamoru going to jail, leaving his pet jellyfish and his plan to breed and release them with Yuji. Mamoru's father (Tatsuya Fuji) eventually enters the film as well; the second half of the film is based around the father/son-like friendship that develops between him and Yuji.

The film unfolds like both a supernatural mystery and a coming-of-age tale. Compared to Kurosawa's last film, the visionary, apocalyptic horror film Pulse (Kairo), Bright Future is a more subdued, somewhat more sentimental film. Yet it retains a sense of impending doom throughout, a feeling that the world could end at any moment. Tokyo in the film is filled with lonely people who are likely to snap or break down at any minute. But there's a difference between the na´ve negativity of the young people in the film and the hardened, beat-down aura of many of the adults.

Shot on digital video, the film looks rough yet bright. The look of the film is somehow both lovely and unsettling, which fits the dual impulses of its main character. Yuji wants to do good, yet he's also driven by the desire to 'fuck shit up.' Late in the film he wavers between dutifully helping out the man who has essentially becomes his un-official father and roaming town with a group of trouble-seeking teenagers. The group, dressed all in white, come off like a better-intentioned, more playful version of their Clockwork Orange counterparts. They exude a gentle sort of nihilism. Wandering down the street, they seem to mirror the path of the poisonous jellyfish. They're both beautiful and dangerous, and they don't know where they're going or what they're doing, exactly. Bright Futurehas an understanding of the fears and dreams of youth to rival that of other classic films about teenage rebellion (Cruel Story of Youth, Rebel Without a Cause) yet Kurosawa's love for the fantastical plot twists of science fiction and the atmosphere of ghost stories, and his skill behind the camera, give the film extra dimensions that transcend audience expectations in a rewarding way.

None of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's films have been theatrically released in the U.S. His recent films---Pulse, Charisma, Cure--all of them moody and insightful creations that start in the general field of mystery/suspense/ horror but then go off in more unconventional and interesting directions-are viewed in this country through the occasional film festival slot and not-exactly-official videotape copies, often dubs of foreign DVDs. Bright Future is making its North American theatrical debut this week at the Toronto Film Festival. There's no reason to expect that this will be the film that breaks this pattern of events, but we can always hope. Bright Future, like the three other Kurosawa films I've seen, has the edge-of-your-seat entertainment quality of the best "thrillers," yet is a rich and thoroughly fulfilling cinematic experience, both visually and intellectually stimulating.

Issue 15, September 2003

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