Bright Future

BRIGHT FUTURE
(AKARUI MIRAI) 2004

Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



Bright Future as a title has no particular relationship to this film. The title in Japanese translates Jellyfish, but in the DVD's interview the director clumsily speaks of the meaning of "Bright Future." He explains his film as being about the young men of the story, who have bright futures which the older characters in the story do not have. This may be the director's ironic observation or just a foolish explanation, as the young men in this film don't have bright futures at all. In their mid-twenties they are still behaving like the school kids. Their work & liesure time are alike without value or creativity. The lives of old & young alike are shown have the same degree of futility, only for the old it's closer to over.

The generational theme intended never seriously surfaces in a hugely disappointing film made up of disconnected components. Two young men (apparently lovers though that's never explicit; they are certainly emotionally reliant on one another) are rather too greatly liked by their boss (Takashi Sasano). The boss is an older man in midlife crisis who just seems to want to hang out with them & wants to give them a big bonus equal to three months wage as part of his ploy to climb into their good graces. He is not particularly creepy or anything, but he is boring & demanding & hard to get rid of, & his position as their employer makes his fraternizing inappropriate.

One evening the weaker of the two young men, Yuji (Jo Odagiri), decides to go murder the pesky boss, & picks up a steel pipe on his way to his boss's home. When he arrives, however, the boss & his wife are already slaughtered, for coincidentally the other young man, though seemingly marginallyh more stable, has already killed them, for no reason ever revealed.

Mamoru (Tadanobu Asano from such wonderful films as Last Life in the Universe & Ichi the Killer) is quickly arrested & admits to his crime. So he's pretty much locked up for life. His estranged father (Tatsuya Fuji, the brilliant star of Realm of the Senses & Empire of Passion) visits Mamoru & they more or less show affection for one another, the lowerclass dad being very sad about his handsome son's terrible act.

Yuji is unable to cope without his friend. Though promising to wait for him twenty years if that is what it takes, Mamoru would rather be executed right away & doesn't want Yuji waiting for him. Sharing grief with the father, Yuji & the dad begin to hang out together in the father's junk shop. Mamoru suddenly kills himself in prison, driving the young man & the older man into a deeper shared grief. How they work out their relationship of father-figure to an emotionally disturbed young man is the main meat of whatever story can be found in Bright Future.

That's pretty much the whole story, the heart of which is Yuji & Mamoru's father coping with an incident that made no sense, & which the film never renders sensible. There are, however, decorative elements to the film intended to make it seem more original, but which largely fail. The main decorative element regards Mamoru's pet jellyfish that Yuji badly takes care of, experimentally adjusting it to freshwater life, then accidently letting it escape into the freshwater canal system. The jellyfish visits him in his dirty apartment & at the old man's junk shop, apparently getting access to water tanks connected to a nearby freshwater canal. The film builds an enormous expectation about the jellyfish, but it all amounts to nothing.

Eventually thousands of the glow-in-the-dark poisonous jellyfish are migrating up the canal. If there is something supernatural happening with them, it is never made clear, & the films illogicality is not the result of magic but only of weak story construction. For no reason there are a great many jellyfish in the canals & for no reason they go back to the sea, though there is some very faint intimation that these glowing jellyfish are symbolic of the "brightness" of the future of young people. A group of young people in identical white sweaters are shown wandering the streets as a contrast to the glowing jellyfish wandering the canal. As symbolism it is as inneffectual as the symbolic tree in the director's even worse film, Charisma which has the same tiresome symbolic intent & ultimately meaninglessness.

The script has both Mamuro & Yuji discussing how Yuji is capable of dreaming of the future. This is another potential supernatural element that is undeveloped. We never actually learn of any dream about the future, though Yuji does describe one rather ordinary dream of walking against the wind. It's as though the script said one of the characters was a penguin but he's not a penguin & the viewer never finds out why in the world he's supposed to be a penguin. Bright Future claims Yuji has dreams that show the future, but he never actually has one, & we are given no clue as to why this ability is alleged.

The performances are across the board excellent, but the story is not; it is emptily pretentious, unfinished, bordering on the ridiculous. Kiyoshi Kurosawa's eagerness to perplex has gained him a following & his films are frequently praised, but every comparison I've ever seen, from Bergman to the director's own claim of being influenced by Altman for Bright Future, all have been laughable comparisons to better directors' better films. To me Bright Future looks like substandard arthouse or film festival "product" calculated to suit its genre slot, but not not well enough written to be regarded as good of kind.

It is elegantly photographed & has some of Japan's finest actors doing far more with the material than would seem possible. The relationships depicted are convincing & interesting despite the film's massive faults. The director's apparent sentiment that nothing really has to make any sense & various elements of a film don't need to have any actual relationship to one another is not an approach that justifies his reputation. To some extent the reputations of a half-dozen of today's Japanese directors is a default situation, because great directors like Mizoguchi, Kobayashi, Akira Kurosawa, Ozu, Oshima, & other giants of a bygone age never again arise, & film fans have to settle for less, & find something to praise about less. For such films as Kiyoshi Kurasawa's Bright Future or Charismato gain praise requires standards to be lowered.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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