Friday, March 20, 2009

REVIEW: Bright Future

アカルイミライ (Akarui mirai)

Released: 2003

Kiysohi Kurosawa

Jo Odagiri
Tadanobu Asano
Tatsuya Fuji
Marumi Shiraishi
Takashi Sasano

Running time: 92 min.

Reviewed by Marc Saint-Cyr

Straddling the line between documentary and fairy tale, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s "Bright Future" is an original and penetrating snapshot of aimless youth. It begins with Mamoru and Yuji, a pair of twenty-somethings who work at a towel manufacturing plant by day and have no other friends besides each other. Yuji, the more childlike of the two, frequently experiences optimistic dreams of the future while Mamoru keeps a poisonous red jellyfish in his apartment, gradually adapting it to freshwater. After giving the jellyfish to Yuji, Mamoru suddenly murders their boss and his wife, for which he is imprisoned and sentenced to death. Forced to cope on his own, Yuji eventually forges a connection with Shin’ichirô, Mamoru’s father, and releases the jellyfish into the canals of Tokyo , bringing about surprising results.

Like his recent, much celebrated family drama "Tokyo Sonata", "Bright Future" marks a departure for Kurosawa from the horror genre, his usual stomping ground. He chooses to tell his story in a very specific way, relying on a number of stylistic techniques to achieve just the right tone for it. The look of the film is extremely bleak and desaturated, rendering Tokyo ’s urban environment as a cold and impersonal place. Occasionally, the image switches to a grainy video format, adding to the in-the-moment documentary quality. Most strikingly, Kurosawa uses split-screen in certain scenes to emphasize the all-too-deeply felt gap between Shin’ichirô’s generation and Yuji’s.

That gap and the efforts made to bridge it are the central concerns of "Bright Future", insightfully explored through its characters and their actions. Painfully insecure and lost, Yuji (Jô Odagiri) is a veritable Travis Bickle for his time and place, clearly out of synch with the world around him. Mamoru, played with deep calm by Tadanobu Asano, acts as a comforting big brother figure for him while regarding his own future with an almost nihilistic indifference. Tatsuya Fuji (the male lead from "In The Realm of the Senses") gives perhaps the film’s most powerful performance as Shin’ichirô, a man virtually outcast from his own family and confronted with the heinous acts and death of his son who finds, with some challenge, a new sense of purpose in Yuji and his obsessive goal to aid the mesmerizing new jellyfish population in Tokyo’s waterways.

While the film’s theme of the young overcoming the old is clearly represented, it nonetheless is open to different interpretations. Some view it as a rebellious social critique in the vein of "Fight Club", with the jellyfish scheme being Mamoru’s own personal Project Mayhem. Others may very well be reminded of "All About Lily Chou-Chou", another stylized and revealing film about the lonely plight of Japanese youth. When considering "Bright Future" and its messages, one aspect to certainly keep in mind is its title. Though laced with grim and tragic elements, there is also a detectable sense of underlying hope, and the film’s young people, regardless of their direction (or lack thereof), are still very much moving forward, steadily headed towards their own bright futures.

Read more by Marc Saint-Cyr at his blog.

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