Bright Future Review
I think of Kiyoshi Kurosawa much as a kindred spirit to Seijun Suzuki for his rebellious and auteuristic ways. Both directors have experienced an exile from the cinema when their individualism got the better of them and both can take prosaic subject matter and infuse it with a freshness or depth quite beyond the quality of the basic material. For someone who has worked extensively in genre cinema, Kurosawa's films exhibit a puckish edge and a sense of the spiritual which is often surprising for their low budgets and low expectations.
In a film like Pulse, the basic horror story is backed up by a strong sense of alienation, and a V-cinema piece like Guard From the Underworld becomes an ironic twist on the slasher genre with a disturbing emotional resonance. In 2003, Bright Future brought the director together with the It Boy of Japanese film, Tadanobu Asano, and was filmed using DV to visually match the rather muted and disappointed nature of this grey urban story. The film follows two young men, Arita and Nimura, whose meaningless temporary jobs look like they may become permanent through the patronage of their boss. Non-plussed at this prospect and quickly becoming worn out by the boss' interest in their own lives, the two of them let him put his hand in their poisonous pet jellyfish' water tank. When he realises that Arita was happy for him to die, the boss fires him. Nimura can't find his friend when he finishes work so he makes for the bosses apartment in a rage picking up a metal bar en route. Once there, he finds his employer and his family slaughtered, and his friend arrested. Imprisoned and awaiting execution, Arita's only concern is not his father but that Nimura helps his jellyfish adapt to the rivers of Tokyo. A bond develops between Arita senior and Nimura, and Tokyo's sewers glow golden.
Bright Future is a little on the depressing side with the two young men facing the prospect of being stuck in salaried misery, both fighting back the rebellion against the mundane takeover of their lives by their obnoxious and patronising boss. Their story is reflected in the accompanying metaphor of the pet poisonous jellyfish learning to adapt and eventually escape its Tokyo existence. This parallel brings with it some beautiful and moving moments with the strange sacrifice of Arita who slaughters the boss before his friend feels compelled to, and there is a desperate sympathy at the movie's heart for the terrible lives that these young men may lead as well as a sad picture of disaffected youth all over the capital. Bored school kids, selfish sons and a dearth of meaning populate this film.
Outside of the miserable youth, there is the character of Arita's father. A Japanese rag and bone man committed to repairing all that the world throws away and becoming used to the fact that he has been discarded by his family too. In Nimura, he sees a new son he can put things to rights with and enjoys his love of the rapidly spreading jellyfish for their adaptive example, but whilst Nimura understands why the jellyfish need to escape the city, the older man can't help himself from trying to stop them. Deceptively profound in places, Bright Future is a modern fable of the generations and city life that ends with the young marching on and the old discarded or dying. The acting is full of pathos and the gritty look of the film serves to reinforce the sense of an urban prison that is not as literal as Arita's, but every bit as confining.
This is fine stuff which some will find rather oblique and too unhappy, but fans of the director will again marvel at his range and ability with this very slight tale. A fine film.
With some combing and motion shake this seems to be a standards conversion, it is by no means obvious because this film was already darkly shot with a lack of action sequences for motion shake to become obvious in, but it shares the same running time as the US disc which seems to confirm the fact. The anamorphic transfer works out at about 1.74:1, you will notice some matting on the left side of the frame, and is jolly sharp. This is also the shorter cut of the film, the existing Japanese disc which has English subs has a running time of some 23 minutes more. As it was shot on rudimentary DV back in 2003 this was never a film which would look perfect as the director didn't envisage that but this transfer is very dark with the contrast lacking grading in darker moments. By no means does this look terrible but it is not properly converted.
As usual, Tartan offer stereo, 5.1 and DTS options. The latter two options give the film a decent coverage around the speakers but the original sound was not designed to be elaborate so don't be surprised if you can hear little difference to the stereo track. As tends to be the case, the DTS offers greater clarity whilst the 5.1 offers more body to the sound - I preferred the DTS track marginally as this is not a movie with a lot of use of bass noise. The soundtrack is not especially atmospheric bar a few touches of the score, and all three tracks lack mastering problems and retain the original rough edges of the original recording. The English subs are steady with a few rare grammatical errors but fine overall.
There are no extras but some care has been taken over the menus to make best use of some of the film's more striking sequences and they offer an audio menu in addition to scene select and play options.
This isn't a film that is supposed to look pristine and the standards conversion is not really the huge issue it has been with other Tartan releases. Owners of the longer Japanese cut on DVD will not want to upgrade as this barebones disc has been released as a full price disc, but curious newcomers will find a fine thought provoking film from a particular talent.
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