future doesn't seem so bright for Yuji Niimura (Jo Odagiri)
and Mamoru Arita (Tadanobu Asano), two blue-collar workers
stuck in dead end jobs at a washcloth factory. The only
thing exciting going on in their lives is Mamoru's prized
pet, a poisonous red jellyfish that will later figure heavily
into the film's main plot. When it comes to their friendship,
Mamoru is clearly the brains of the operation, telling his
often directionless friend, ""If I make this signal
[points finger to his chest] it means 'wait.' If I do this
[points index finger forward] it means 'go.'" Although
a seeming joke at first, the binary gestures soon take on
a greater significance as the narrative progresses.
Things begin to look up for
the duo when their boss at the factory, Mr. Fujiwara (Takashi
Sasano), offers the two men a promotion. But that seemingly
positive announcement becomes an unwelcome burden for the
two shiftless young men. When Mr. Fujiwara suddenly barges
in unannounced at Mamoru's apartment, he annoys them to
the point where neither Mamoru nor Yuji try to stop their
boss from petting the deadly red jellyfish. Although completely
ignorant of the danger, Fujiwara narrowly escapes death
and returns home. Apparently, the boss does some fact-checking
about jellyfish at home and confronts Mamoru with the truth.
This results in Mamoru walking out, leaving the ever-directionless
Yuji all alone.
The plot suddenly shifts in
tone when Yuji, in a rage, goes over to Fujiwara's house
for revenge (it's unclear exactly what Yuji plans to do),
only to discover that most of the family has been slaughtered.
In quick succession, Mamoru is brought in by the police
and charged with murder. Yuji tries to talk to him, but
Mamoru is more concerned with his precious jellyfish, leaving
Yuji with hilariously intricate instructions on how to acclimate
the saltwater creature to a freshwater environment. While
in jail, Mamoru is also visited by his estranged father
Shinichiro (Tatsuya Fuji). The father tries to make amends
with his son but with little success. Just when it looks
like Mamoru's future is anything but bright things, start
to get really weird. There's the teenage gang of white-clad
street hoods who wear Che Guevara print T-shirts. And then
there's the ghost mucking with Yuji and Shinichiro's budding
friendship. Oh, and of course there's the red jellyfish.
In true monster movie fashion, the creature grows and multiplies
with astonishing results. To say anymore would spoil the
film, and after all, part of the film's charm is its sheer
Similarly, what is perhaps
most interesting about Bright Future is how Kurosawa
toys with genre conventions. At several points in the narrative,
there's a conscious shift towards more conventional themes,
but Kurosawa never dwells on them for very long. It's as
if he gives his audience just a little taste, but never
fully commits, oftentimes leaving them wanting more. For
the most part, it's a strategy that works.
The performances are spot-on.
The surrogate father-son relationship that emerges between
Shinichiro and Yuji is played well by actors Tatsuya Fuji
and Jo Odagiri. They mine those scenes for all their worth,
creating several poignant moments without going overboard
with sentimentality. Tadanobu Asano does a fine job in what
turns out to be little more than a supporting role as Mamoru
Arita. His stone-faced glare creates a palpable sense of
danger in every scene he appears, often with humorous results.
The ending will baffle some
viewers. Initially, I found the ending to be horribly bleak,
as if the future seemed to be entrusted to those who weren't
worthy of the responsibility, a take that views the title
as highly ironic. But apparently Kurosawa has been quoted
as saying that the title Bright Future is not meant
to be sarcastic at all, but is in fact entirely sincere.
And perhaps that's the mark of a great film: that it's open
to many equally valid interpretations. In the end, Bright
Future means what you want it to mean, and for this
reviewer, it means "a damn good movie." (Calvin McMillin,