Warning: minor spoilers for the 2003 film Bright Future.
OVID’s December 2021 release lineup spotlights 10 films and five exclusive streaming premieres, including Qiong Wang’s All About My Sisters, Gonzalo Maza’s This Is Cristina, Mark Kitchell’s A Fierce Green Fire, Benoît Jacquot’s Suzanna Andler and Herb Stratford’s Gustav Stickley: American Craftsman. For fans of Japanese cinema, there’s also Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s 2003 gem, Bright Future, a film about complacency, violence and a reproducing jellyfish, among other things. In Manohla Dargis’s 2004 review for The New York Times, she cites Kurosawa’s ability to create “an atmosphere of low-frequency terror and fear.” In my opinion, Bright Future feels more terrifying than the filmmaker’s acclaimed 2001 production, Pulse, a movie about spirits that use the internet against humans.
In Bright Future, it’s Kurosawa’s framing and use of light that fascinates me. There’s often a visual divide, whether it’s between two characters or between someone and literal sunlight. For example, when the protagonist Yûji Nimura (Joe Odagiri) visits a friend named Mamoru Arita (Tadanobu Asano) in prison, Kurosawa uses a static wide shot with the characters in the foreground and light from outside the world in the top right corner of the frame. Later, when Yûji bonds with Mamoru’s father, Shinichiro (Tatsuya Fuji), a split-screen car visual provides a subtle commentary about a generational gap, even if both characters appear to get along well. Aesthetically, Bright Future’s opening moments align with Pulse — narration and jittery camera movements — but the existential dread primarily emerges through the director’s use of physical space in order to communicate larger ideas about conceptual space. Mamoru can almost see the outside world but not quite. Yûji can literally see a potential father figure but can’t visualize a brighter tomorrow. The jellyfish breaks free, multiplies and leaves Tokyo; a climactic tease that can be thematically linked to the COVID-19 pandemic.
From a modern perspective, Pulse may seem more relevant than Bright Future, if only because people talk more about the internet and ghosts in December 2021 than jellyfish and Japanese kids wearing Che Guevara t-shirts. But think about that multiplying jellyfish and how slips it through the cracks, and then think about today’s political climate in America and the lack of healthy partisan dialogue. “You’re mocking the jellyfish’s venom,” says Mamoru early on in Bright Future, hoping that his pal will think outside the box and acknowledge some basic truths. By November 2024, a new gang of jellyfish will undoubtedly emerge after going overlooked. But what color will they be? I don’t know, and I’m a little scared about what might happen if people don’t at least acknowledge the jellyfish.
Bright Future is now available to stream at OVID.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.