In Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Bright Future, two friends, young men who work together in a small factory, keep a pet poisonous jellyfish. At first, this does not seem all that promising as a setup to a film. Keeping a creepy pet is the kind of thing you almost expect kids to do these days simply for shock value. My best friend in high school had a pet tarantula and a pet rat. Another friend had a boa constrictor. If I had a friend who had a pet vampire bat, I would not have been surprised. Me, I had a cat. When one friend murders his boss over what amounts to an insult to the jellyfish, though, the movie becomes interesting. When the murderous friend begins instructing the other friend, Mamoru, on how to adapt the jellyfish to fresh water, the film becomes firmly entrenched in Kiyoshi Kurosawa territory. We know something horrible is in the making and we’ve got more than an inkling of what it might be.
As with all of the films of Kiyoshi Kurosawa (no relation to Akira Kurosawa), there are things operating under the surface of the film’s reality that propel the narrative. Kurosawa’s films are not really about what they are about. In Kurosawa’s best known film, Cure, the film is less about mysterious killings than it is about an exploration for some sort of truth in identity. In the case of the often baffling Bright Future, the film is not about a potential terrorist attack by way of killer jellyfish, but about intergenerational conflict and misunderstandings. The jellyfish are something of a philosophical MacGuffin, a way of smuggling big ideas into a small film. Claude Chabrol has done something similar for years, teasing out themes of morality from twisty murder mysteries and it is something that Kurosawa has explored in most of his films. Here, Mamoru, while training his jellyfish to live in fresh water, attempts to act as the son his friend’s father lost to madness. The unease provoked from the film comes not from a gentle young man considering releasing deadly jellyfish into Japan’s public waterways; it comes from the thematic conflict between this horrific thought and the same man’s thoughts of kindness and love toward an old man of no relation. That the film succeeds on the level of a thriller as well as of a philosophical reflection is a proof of Kurosawa as perhaps the best Japanese filmmaker of his generation.
Review by Matt Bailey
A documentary was made during the production process of Bright Future, called Aimai Na Mirai (Ambivalent Future). It was released in theaters in Japan and it’s available on the Japanese DVD release of Bright Future. The documentary was not so much a making-of as an interpretation of your work, with Bright Future functioning as a case study. What did you think when you saw it?
I didn’t watch it so attentively, because I felt a bit embarrassed about watching myself. I kept thinking “What a liar this director is!” (laughs). And I understood the difference between documentary filmmakers and fiction filmmakers. Documentarists shoot elements of reality, and after that in post-production they try to turn it into a lie as much as possible. Directors like me who make fiction – and I’ve never made a documentary – we deal with fictional elements such as the script, but after that we try to make them as close to reality as possible, and try not to lie as much possible. It’s the complete opposite.
What came across most clearly in that documentary, in its interpretation of your work, was ambivalence. It seemed to say that the central motif of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s work is that there is no central motif.
It’s an interesting point of view. I think you can say that. I think the motif always changes. And also, we can’t avoid mistakes. If you follow one motif, by mistake you can end up with a different motif. Or even if you don’t make a mistake, the motif will change naturally. I honestly say that you can never simply grab the motifs and apply them rationally. It’s impossible, in cinema at least, because the motif changes with every image. This doesn’t just go for me, but the essence of cinema is like this, you can never hope to rationally insert motifs. That’s my honest opinion. So in that situation you have to instinctively choose the elements for making your film, without knowing how the film will develop, and you have to continue doing so. That’s the only way to make a film. To say “the central motif of Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s work is that there is no central motif” sounds too pretentious. That is the documentarist’s lie (laughs).
In the documentary you say that the value of cinema lies in the fact that it affirms your individual position in society, by way of how your reaction to a film is different from the reactions of the people around you. That would suggest that if an answer to the question “What is cinema?” exists, that answer could only be given by the audience and not by the filmmaker.
Good point. I believe the answer to “What is cinema?” is decided by the audience. For example, I make films but I also watch films. Watching films is related to making films. If I didn’t watch films, I would never have made them. Of course, the very first film ever made was made by a person who had never seen a film before. But the person who has seen films and has received a strong influence from them will sometimes go on to make films. That line of influence is an essential thing. The principal thing is that you have watched films. So deciding the essence of “What is cinema?” is left up to the audience, I think.
So if the viewer’s reaction is what is important, bad films are as valuable as good films.
Well… I think so, but… It’s an interesting question. Is a film born a masterpiece or bomb, or is its identity created when it’s viewed by an audience? I think it’s probably the latter, but I can’t say with certainty. The question is worth more thought. It’s possible that some films are born masterpieces. Maybe. They would be exceptional cases.
Which films could that be?
Difficult to say, but for example Sortie des Usines Lumière by Louis Lumière, the first film ever made. It just came into existence in that period and it’s only about a minute long, but even when you watch it now you realise that it’s an undeniable masterpiece. The fact that the history of film started with such a miraculous masterpiece confronts me with the mythical nature of cinema.
Documentary with English Hardcoded Subtitles