Wednesday, March 16, 2005

DVD REVIEW: Bright Future

Here's an odd duck from Japan, which may or may not have popped up without much fanfare on your local rental outlet's shelves. It's being promoted as a "high-end" Asian import, which is code-talk meant to signal to "discerning" (read: "vaugely snooty") Cineastes that it is free of giant monsters, equally-giant robots piloted by emotionally troubled tween-agers, long-haired homocidal poltergiests, tentacles with sexual preferences, characters proficient in the martial-arts, and all the other "lower genre" elements that defines so much of popular Asian cinema in America (and, lets be fair here, popular Asian cinema in Asia.)

All well and good, as promotion goes, until one of these "discerning" folks actually rents the thing and discovers with some surprise that this "high-end" entry includes "lower-end" staples of recent Japanese pop-film like out-of-left-field carnage and a psychotic gang of teenaged nihilists, and that much of it's story arc revolves around the invasion of Tokyo by an army of ultra-poisonous, freshwater-acclimated jellyfish. Which isn't to imply that "Bright Future" is indeed some sort of mis-marketed J-horror shocker, but more to remind us all that Japan continues it's reign as the world's leading producer of "what the hell!?" filmmaking.

The director is Kiyoshi Kurosawa, generally known for more "traditional" genre pics like "Pulse" but here offering up something more like an observational character-drama occuring on the margins of a "standard" nature's-revenge piece. It's an "attack of the kille whatevers" flick where the central "whatevers" (Red Jellies conditioned to survive in fresh water) seem to have at once everything and nothing to do with the movie itself. They seem to be some kind of visualized metaphor for the film's overall point, and also as a kind of literalized counterpoint to some human element in the film, but exactly what the point may be or which human characters are meant to be the counterpoint is entirely debatable.

The plot, such as it is, centers on a pair of socially-disaffected twentysomethings named Nimura and Mamoru who seem content to work their crappy part-time job, hang out in arcades and indulge in their mutual hobby of "teaching" Mamoru's pet Jellyfish to breath fresh water by gradually desalinizing it's fishtank. The sudden intrusion into their lives of their overreager boss, who wants them to become more-responsible full-time employees and possibly his midlife-crisis "young pals" leads to a not-quite-misunderstanding about the Jellyfish, which leads to Mamoru getting fired, which in turn leads to an inexplicable act of terrible violence that turns Mamoru into a condemned criminal and Nimura into the Jellyfish's sole owner.

In short order, Nimura's life and sanity begin to deteriorate, the Jellyfish escapes into the Tokyo canals, Mamoru's estranged father and Nimura meet and form a kind of surrogate-family relationship, and Nimura briefly tries his hand at office work. Around the same time that Nimura finds himself voted the de-facto leader of a Clockwork Orange-esque gang of street punks the Jellyfish re-emerges with an army of offspring that launch a reign of not-quite-terror-more-like-annoyance in the city.

I think an argument can be made that, at least on one level, "Bright Future" is hovering in the realm of the Fudoh/Suicide Club/Battle Royale cycle of abstract tales of Japanese youth in rebellion, with the docile-but-don't-bother-them Jellyfish acting as a symbolic warning against disturbing the content slacker-hood of guys like Nimura and Mamoru. This would certainly hold, given that Nimura eventually seems to "generate" an army of destruction-prone young followers at the precise time that the Jellyfish swarms into Tokyo with it's newfound brood. But it's also entirely possible that there's both much more and much less going on here than there appears, especially given strange details such as how the strangy body of water beneath Tokyo through which the Jelly escapes Nimura's house into the city canals only seems to exist some of the time. And, of course, as is the case with so much of Japanese cinema a slight hint of impending apocalypse seems always in the air.

This is definately not something for everyone, but I dug it. It's got something, and it's worth a look if you get the opportunity to do so.


Anonymous said...

Bob - This is awesome! I found you through blog explosion. I have a Netflix membership and am always trying to find good films to rent.
I bookmarked the site. Do you have an index of your film reviews?


Bob said...

Glad you're enjoying it.

Unfortunately, at this time I don't have the capacity for a seperate reviews archive, but all reviews are located in the general archives always with the word "REVIEW" prefacing the title in all-caps.

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