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Bright Future
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by Jay Seaver

"Creepy coming of age movie from the other Kurosawa."
4 stars

The American Heritage dictionary defines "sinister" as an adjective meaning "(1) Suggesting or threatening evil; (2) Presaging trouble; ominous; (3) Attending by or causing disaster or inauspicious circumstances." It's not a word that pops into my head during a lot of movies, certainly not as the prime descriptor, but it describes much of Japanese horror filmmaker Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Bright Future very well.

Bright Future isn't exactly a horror movie; it's more about disaffection than malice. Yuji Nimura (Jo Odagiri) and Mamoru Arita (Tadanobu Asano) work in a towel factory. Nimura's in his early twenties, Arita a few years older. They don't seem to have many other friends, hanging out together after work, mainly playing video games and drinking in arcades or their small apartments. Their boss (Takashi Sasano), apparently going through a mid-life crisis, feels similarly adrift, and latches on to them. He offers full-time employment, asks them to help move a desk into his daughter's bedroom and stay for dinner, and would also like to know if he could maybe borrow a CD with their favorite music. One time, he stops by Arita's apartment, and an encounter with the poisonous jellyfish Arita keeps in his salt-water aquarium shows how, though each is dissatisfied, it manifests itself in different ways.

Mr. Fujiwara has become extroverted, becoming a little over-friendly in an attempt to recapture his lost youth. Nimura is passive. Not "almost-autistic" passive, but he's always looking to his friend for guidance on what he should do, even when Arita signals him not to tell the older man that the jellyfish is poisonous. And Arita... Well, that's where the sinister feelings come in. Its hinted that he's broken the law before, and when he winds up in jail again, he seems to take great pleasure in showing his father (Tatsuya Fuji) and lawyer (Ryo) how much he really doesn't care. And while he's in there, he instructs Nimura to care for his jellyfish, but to slowly replace the salt water in its tank with fresh water. At first, it simply seems like a means to torture the beast, but he seems happy when Nimura reports that it has developed a tolerance.

Asano gives a fascinating performance, because Arita does not initially appear to be a monster - he just seems like the same sort of twenty-something just drifting through his life as Nimura, though a little more cynical from the extra years he's been out of school working dead-end jobs. He's also no kind of evil genius; he gives no indication that he foresees the chain of events that he sets into motion. He's almost a sort of malevolent slacker, ambivalent about the trouble he causes. Arita Senior feels guilty about how he raised him (or fell short on that count), and appears to want to make it up somehow, taking interest in Nimura as a surrogate.

Nimura is the film's main character, and I imagine it's difficult to build a movie around a character like him. He's apathetic, drifting from being influenced by his sister to his friend to his boss. There never seems to be any real reason to believe he'll gain any sense of purpose by the end, and at some points, Nimura comes across as rather pathetic. From what we see of the characters' families, Nimura seems to have been worn down by his sister, and maybe Arita became what he did because of his father's neglect. Or maybe they were just born that way.

I haven't seen any of Kurosawa's horror films, but I'm betting they're some of the best, if only for what he does with the jellyfish. Jellies are great visuals just to start with - we would dismiss them as insubstantial CGI creations if we didn't know they were real - so we feel Nimura's fascination with this one. There's also something peculiarly symbolic about taking care of a creature that you can't touch, that will almost inevitably hurt you, because it cannot do otherwise. For such a tiny creature, it looms large toward the end of the film. Kurosawa doesn't quite let the movie become a horror film, but it does become a bit larger than the small character study it began as.

By the end, it is still more character study than thriller, although the mounting feeling of dread and doom is quite able to get the hairs on ones back to stand up. It's a nifty little movie that way.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=11160&reviewer=371
originally posted: 03/24/05 18:28:26
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8/30/05 Christine Hosie dark drama, felt undertones of inversion, good movie 4 stars
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  DVD: 08-Mar-2005



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