In a departure from his traditional thrillers and supernatural films, Kiyoshi Kurosawa moves into the everyday with a drama that, although simple, is punctuated by moments of beauty and compelling performances from leads Jo Odagiri and Tadanobu Asano.
Friends Mamoru Arita (Tadanobu Asano) and Yuji Nimura (Jo Odagiri) are aimless young men working dead-end jobs in a dreary laundry factory in Tokyo. Yuji seems to be on a downward spiral, trapped in adolescence and gradually losing his bright dreams. Mamoru is antisocial with no hobbies except acclimatising a poisonous jellyfish to fresh water. “Could be a storm’s coming,” Mamoru says to Yuji and it seems that way as Yuji teeters on the brink of an act of violence against their boss, Fujiwara (Takashi Sasano). Mamoru beats him to it, committing an act of inexplicable violence. With Mamoru facing the death penalty Yuji is left to look after the jellyfish. Mamoru’s estranged father Shin-ichiro (Tatsuya Fuji) is devastated by the news and while looking for an explanation forms a bond with Yuji but Yuji’s confusion over his direction and his obsession with the jellyfish threatens his future and that of Tokyo.
Bright Future revels in metaphors of the burst bubble economy of the 90’s, failed parents, broken families and aimless youth finding direction. It’s most explicit in the way the father gets surrogate son and the two must work together in a rediscovery of responsibility and self-reliance.
What is more intriguing is the change that Kurosawa himself is undergoing. Although his familiar cold looking urban exteriors, dilapidated buildings, gloomy interiors and melancholy characters are captured there is a raw feeling with more stark whites and over-exposure. In between the light and the dark are the jellyfish which are stunning to look at when in their tanks, providing points of alluring but deadly light and interesting visuals.
There is a nervous energy as the camera moves around a lot more with multiple cuts in scenes, rain covering the lens at points, creating a disjointed sensation at times but that’s part of the experience – conveying the confusion of everyday life.
The characters inhabiting this world are not Kurosawa’s regulars but a new generation although Asano manages to capture the eerie presence of the serial killer in Kurosawa’s 1997 film Cure. Odagiri stands in for a lost generation with a great performance that shows so much confusion, desperation to be good. His uncertain future and loneliness is vividly captured in a dream sequence where he must press walking through a bleak urban landscape buffeted by winds and trash. He is at once sympathetic but scary because you don’t know his true potential and you hope he discovers a path that will lead him to a bright future.
As a major fan of Kurosawa’s work what is most interesting about Bright Future is that it is obviously a stepping stone into more mainstream subjects and new filming technology that would culminate in the brilliant (dare I say, classic) Tokyo Sonata five years later. Seen out of this context it might underwhelm.
Romaji: Akarui Mirai
Release Date: January 18th, 2003 (Japan)
Running Time: 115 mins.
Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa (Screenplay),
Starring: Joe Odagiri, Tadanobu Asano, Tatsuya Fuji Takashi Sasano, Ryo Kase, Kenichi Matsuyama, Sayuri Oyamada,