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  Bright Future  
  |     review    |     notes     |     availability     |
Joe Odagiri admires his jellyfish
 
  Japanese: Akarui Mirai  
  AKA: Jellyfish Alert  
  Year: 2003  
  Director: Kiyoshi Kurosawa  
  Producer: Takashi Asai  
  Writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa  
  Cast: Jo Odagiri, Tadanobu Asano, Tatsuya Fuji, Ryo Kase, Takashi Sasano  
The Skinny: A mesmerizing film from director Kiyoshi Kurosawa that defies simple categorization. Is it a "coming of age" story or a tense family drama? A ghost story? Or perhaps a monster movie? Whatever the film is intended to be, it's damn good.
Review by Calvin McMillin:

     The 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 unpredictability.
     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, 2004)

 
Notes:

• This review is based on the 92-minute cut of the film Kiyoshi Kurosawa put together for the Cannes Film Festival. The Japanese and Korean DVDs feature the original and (presumably) superior 115-minute version. Kurosawa himself prefers the longer cut, but said the shorter version has some strong points as well.
• "Ambivalent Future," a documentary filmed during production of Bright Future was released in theatres and said to be available on the Japanese DVD.

 
Availability:

DVD (Japan)
Region 2 NTSC
Clockworks
Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
English Subtitles
Various Extras

 
DVD (Korea)
Region 3 NTSC
Cinexus
Widescreen
Japanese Language Track
Dolby Digital 5.1
English Subtitles
Various Extras
 
   
 
   
 
 
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