Bright Future (2003) is director Kiyoshi Kurosawa's attempt at a Japanese youth film. In the 60's, such films usually had funky gangs engaging in rowdy fistfights and psychedelic freakouts, but the modern youth films, like Blue Spring, tend to focus on serious ennui and somber alienation with only the occasional fistfight.
Yuji Nimura (Jo Odagiri) and Mamoru Arita (Tadanobu Asano- Ichi the Killer, Taboo) are two disaffected twenty-somethings who work at a laundry. Their midlife crisis suffering boss takes a shine to them, offering them full time positions, but he also imposes, like making the two do after work chores and trying to hang out with them. This sets off the dreamless Yuji and an unreturned borrowed cd becomes enough reason to attack his boss late one night. Only, when Yuji gets to his employers home, the boss and his wife have already been beaten to death.
Mamoru admits to the crime, which could have been a retalliation for his recent firing, or some deeper secret. Mamoru entrusts his pet red jellyfish to Yuji, the poisonous creature being the only thing Mamoru seemed passionate about and gives strict instructions on its feeding and how to get it acclimated to freshwater. Mamoru's absentee father, Shinchiro (Tatsuya Fuji- In the Realm of the Senses), reemerges, guilt ridden over his lack parenting, searching for the answers to how his son turned into a cold blooded killer. Shinchiro takes an unhinged and aimless Yuji under his feeble wing, but Yuji's future may be as lost as his dreams.
Seemingly benign and delicate until provoked by even the most unassuming action, jellyfish appear to be Bright Future's metaphor for Japanese youth. In the film the jellyfish ends up in Tokyo's canal system, spawning and breeding, resulting in a hauntingly beautiful finale where a large luminous school is trying to make its way to the ocean, which could be interpreted as youth trying to acclimate themselves into society. Or, that could be totally wrong.
The thing that seems to turn most people off about Kiyoshi Kurosawa is his crypticness. Looking at his films (Charisma, Cure, Kairo, to name a few), he appears to be completely uninterested in normal dramatic dynamics, manufacturing grand emotions and easy to interpret themes. You do sometimes get the sense (and it is founded) that he doesn't quite know what it all means, or that he isn't willing to commit to an explanation, so he relies on the viewer to interpret what they will and fill in all of the metaphoric holes. But, that is his style, and being obtuse is just as natural to him as Fellini's operatics, Lynch's surrealism, or Godard's abstract experimentation.
Bright Future may be just a tad too oblique and maudlin for its own good. Though, I have to say, I was engaged in every second. But, by the end, like many of K Kurosawa's films, the threads of his intention seemed a bit frayed, amounting to a gorgeous mess. Were Yuji and Mamoru planning to poison the water supply with the jellyfish? Did they have some psychic connection? Is it commenting on sociopathic young men or is it more about generational conflict? Suffice to say, if you like your drama literal, go elsewhere. But, if you like ambiguity and something to think about, Bright Future will leave you with all the "???????" you desire. At the very least, you have to show some modicum of respect for a director this willing to march to his own off kilter beat. Its weird, but, as a film maker, his ambiguity is both his most endearing quailty and his greatest failing point.
The DVD: Palm Pictures
Picture: Anamorphic Widescreen. Shot on DV, the film has an intentional grainy and washed-out look. I actually had to double check and look around for reviews of the film to make sure its roughness was this intentional. Every review I read remarked on its stark visual tone. While there are occasional sparks of color, fleshtones remain pallid. General details like contrast and sharpness are not very refined, though this is most likely due to the DV format lacking films depth. Which isn't to say it is a bad looking DV movie, I'd say it is comparable to, oh, 28 Days Later in terms of efficient DV film making.
* The last thing I should note is that my screener did show pixelation during the final ten minutes. This was a minor annoyance on my Toshiba, but when I tried the disc on my computer, at the same point, it completely froze. It could just be my screener, but potential buyers will want to give it a quick spin and check for any errors. By all means, if you get the disc, contact me, and I'll make note of any similair quirks or lack thereof.
Sound: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, Japanese language with optional Enlgish subtitles. Well, another option (c'mon, no 5.1?) would have been nice. Still, very clear and responsive mix. The accordion, upright bass, and xylophone heavy score sounds quite good; though I wasn't really into the "Happy Trails" sounding theme that reoccurs throughout the film (including the disc menu). Excellent subtitle translation that, although white, never gets lost or illegible in the picture.
Extras: Trailer, plus Palm Pictures previews.— "Ambivalent Future" Featurette (60:14). If you are going to single out an extra from the Japanese edition, thankfully, this is the one. A behind the scenes doc, with the usual filming footage, actor, director, and producer interviews, but it has something extra I haven't seen before. Kurosawa is interviewed and shown behind the scenes footage and asked to comment on his directing method. A fascinating look at the machinations of a director with a unique passive-aggressive directing style and ambivalence to normal film psychology. By no means a fluff piece either, it actually made me appreciate the film more.
Conclusion: I enjoyed the film but fully acknowledge it has some potential narrative pitfalls for most viewers. The featurette is really interesting and goes a long way to washing away any confusion the film could cause. Though a film should stand on its own, this feature helps to shed light on the film and is an insightful look at the film maker.
*Okay, I checked around and it seems the pixelation/breakup was just, for whatever reason, on my screener. Word from other sites and people that bought the disc say it is fine.