Bright Future, 2003

An aimless, twenty-something man, Yuji Nimura (Joe Odagiri), bides his idle time at a local video arcade as he reflects off-camera in a solemn voice of recurring visions for a bright future that once filled his unconscious hours of sleep until recently when, suddenly and inexplicably, the pleasant dreams ceased. Volatile and asocial (where the size of the chicken pieces in his bento box is invariably grounds for an unprovoked fight) Yuji’s only friend is the equally unambitious and directionless Mamoru Arita (Tadanobu Asano), an outwardly carefree co-worker whose one prized possession – and sole preoccupation – is the care and re-acclimation of a translucent and strangely entrancing, but dangerously poisonous saltwater red jellyfish. Their supervisor, a middle-aged man named Mr. Fujiwara (Takashi Sasano), takes advantage of the docile and seemingly acquiescent employees, inviting them into his home for dinner and, more importantly, to deliver his daughter’s oversized wooden desk to an upstairs room at the house. Nevertheless, despite his dubious invitation, Fujiwara seems genuinely concerned with the welfare and plight of the unmotivated young men, offering them a salary bonus and an opportunity to become full-time, permanent employees at the factory – a chance for job stability and a higher level of responsibility that the reluctant friends meet with ambivalence and concern. But as the sociable Fujiwara begins to insinuate himself into their empty, withdrawn lives, Yuji and Mamoru’s surfacing resentment towards their intrusive employer leads to a reckless act of impassivity that irreparably damages their fostering relationship with their well-intentioned employer.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa presents a hauntingly enigmatic, poetic, and understated portrait of rootlessness, apathy, and disconnection in Bright Future. Capturing dreamlike, temporal (and existential) ambiguity within a realistic, verite-styled camerawork (the film was shot exclusively in digital video) through alternating point-of-views, narrative ellipses, and surreal encounters, Kurosawa creates visual incongruence that innately reflect the adrift young protagonists’ dissociation from their oppressively mundane (and self-induced) reality. Similarly, the recurring split-screen view of the passenger compartment of Mamoru’s father Shin-ichiro’s (Tatsuya Fuji) truck that is thematically repeated in his physically distanced, polite conversations with his estranged children illustrate their fractured familial relationships, underscoring the spatial distance – and emotional isolation – of the characters. Recalling the dilemma of ecological balance (or more broadly, natural order) represented by the exotic, but environmentally pernicious tree in Kurosawa’s earlier film Charisma, Mamoru’s endlessly captivating, yet toxic jellyfish is also an allegorical manifestation of the struggle between personal interest and social responsibility (note that Shin-ichiro’s humble livelihood as a recycler and repairer of discarded electronics is a pragmatic reflection of his awareness for universal parity). As the red jellyfish navigates through its new and unfamiliar environment, its plight reflects the uncertain and treacherous path of the film’s young antiheroes, foundering in the impersonality of technology, instinctually searching – not for transitory escape – but for a way home.

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