Friday, December 04, 2020

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Bright Future

It is the Incredible Journey of jellyfish movies. It also follows in the long Japanese cinematic tradition of disaffected young adults. However, unlike the “Sun Tribe” movie characters, Yuji Nimura and Mamoru Arita are decidedly working class. The latter is also clearly sociopathic. Yet, they both have a strange affection for Arita’s pet jellyfish in Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Bright Future, which re-releases today via the Metrograph’s virtual cinema.

When the film starts, the two slacker friends are working at an industrial laundry, but they might take off at any time.
 Nimura thinks they will be like the two guys in Route 66, so he is surprised when Arita decides to move on without him. Nevertheless, he readily agrees to care for Arita’s jellyfish, at least until he returns for it. It turns out that will take much longer than either of them anticipated, because of a shocking impulse Arita indulges.

This turn of events leaves Nimura in a confused state of depression, which only deepens when he accidentally allows the jellyfish to leak into the canal. However, he finds some unlikely companionship with Shinichiro Arita, his friend’s father, who is even more estranged from the rest of his family than he was from Mamoru. Nimura even starts to learn the junk dealing trade, until he is distracted by sightings of the jellyfish in the waters flowing around the city.

If you learn nothing else from this film, you must remember jellyfish are poisonous. They can also be hypnotic, at least when filmed by Kurosawa and cinematographer Takahide Shibanushi. This is definitely a film of stark yet subtle shades, shifting from black-and-white to sepia tones, and back to grainy gray-scales, with the spectral colors of the jellyfish most haunting of all. You can tell just by looking the title holds all kinds of ironies.

It is also strangely absorbing. This is really not another horror film from Kurosawa, but it is certainly some kind of genre movie. Major crimes are definitely major crimes and there might even be the hint of the supernatural. More importantly, it offers a meditation on friendship and human connection. Kurosawa vividly and compellingly shows viewers how the passive Nimura’s problematic friendship with the dominant Arita continues to have a corrosive effect on his subsequent relationships.

Both Joe Odagiri and Tadanobu Asano give understated yet riveting performances as Nimura and Arita, respectively. They don’t need cheap theatrics to hold viewers’ rapt attention. Tatsuya Fuji is maybe slightly less reserved, but acutely human and often quite poignant as old man Arita. Many of their scenes together unfold counter-intuitively, based on our pre-existing movie expectations, but they really make greater logical sense when considered in the light of Kurosawa’s vision.

Bright Future, the jaunty vibe-drive score composed by Pacific 231 (Shigeomi Hasumi & Takemasa Miyake) sounds like it ought to be completely inappropriate, yet somehow it seems to work. That could also be said for many other aspects of the film. It is odd, but weirdly moving. Very highly recommended, Kurosawa’s Bright Future opens virtually today (12/4).