Genre: Contemporary Urban/Existential Drama
review in one breath
A characteristic exploration within the films of director Kurosawa Kiyoshi has to do with the fluidity of "individuality" within the ever-changing environment of his characters' worlds. In Cure (1997) the main character, forced to confront and consider the absolute amoral attitude of the antagonist, undergoes a radical transformation regarding his own moral conscience and action. In Charisma (1999), the seemingly nihilistic main character flees the chaotic moral morass of urbanized civilization into a more "natural" environment, where, after observing the lessons of an even starker reality, returns to the city morally emboldened. In Kourei (2000), through misfortunate happenstance, the naive and humble lives of the two main characters are plunged, first into moral ambiguiuty, and finally into the collapse of character.
Akarui Mirai (2003) is an insightful and evolutionary step in the development of this theme. For here, Kurosawa Kiyoshi utilizes actual, observable social declines among youth in Japan as the stage upon which his two main characters, Arita Mamoru (Asano Tadanobu) and Nimura Yuji (Odagiri Jo) will enter the moral gauntlet. The moral crises of these two are shocking, dramatic and truly creative.
Here's some brief, digressive social commentary:
- In 1995, due to an increasingly difficult academic and job market, and the "bubble", 65.1% of adults aged 20-24, 35.1% of those aged 25-29, and 13.1% of those aged 30-34 lived with their parents (Stats from JEI.) By 2003 these percentages have increased drastically, causing a social crisis of sorts impacting negatively not only the economy but also the nation's steadily decreasing population. Many of these parasite singles (as Japanese society has come to call them) shuffle from one low paying job to the next, seemingly aloof to the traditional Japanese values of commitment and hard labor. But the traditional work environment, which only years ago boasted the virtues of "lifetime employment" have all but burst along with the recent economic bubble. Thus the young people we refer to are those who grew up on one side of a traditional cultural assumption and suddenly found themselves having to compete in a completely different cultural milieu.
To this world, Kurosawa will add a further degree of complexity by making our two main characters completely estranged from their familes. Thus while the "parasite singles" know they have their parents to fall back on, Arita and Nimura are living their free-floating life without a net. They both work in a bussling factory which launders, rolls and wraps the (wonderfully) hot towelettes which are offered in Japanese restaurants. Though Arita is a few years older, he and Nimura are in a real sense friends, in great part due to their similar situation and outlook. The elder, more mature personality of Arita seems easily differentiated from that of Nimura, who is prone to outbursts of anger and selfishness. However, when the boss of the factory drops by Arita's apartment to invite both he and Nimura to a more permanent position in the company, a much more complex personality of Arita emerges. Indeed, this complexity, and its eventual expression into violent action will soon serve as the ever-present ghost against which the remaining story must act and define itself in response to.
Apart from Arita and Nimura, there are two other *major* characters around which the story is vitally developed. The first is Arita's poisonous red jellyfish. (Jellyfish Alert! As a general rule, coloured jellyfish ARE venomous, so if you are ever approached by one in a bar, please beware.) Although by nature the poisonous jellyfish survives only in sea (salt) water, Arita has skillfully and meticulously modified the jelly's living condition in order to adapt it to life in fresh water. (Why, you ask?) This wonderful jellyfish, which not only gracefully paralyzes you within seconds of your blundering touch of it, glows brightly in dark water through the miraculous translucence which charactertizes so many sea creatures. When, through a(nother) fit of rage by Nimura, the jelly is unleashed into the public waterways of Tokyo, a whole new complexity is introduced. On the one hand, of course, the complexity consists of a new, fatally poisonous entity introduced into the population's living space. On the other, greater hand, the complexity consists of understanding whether or not this was Arita's plan all along, and if so, what his reasons and meanings were.
The second major character is Arita's estranged father, Arita Shin-ichiro (Fuji Tatsuya), who in the latter half of the film is perhaps the most meaningful and significant character.
Now, because I love Japanese film, and because (of course) I love you, I MUST pause and pay humble tribute to Fuji Tatsuya (who plays Arita's father). Fuji has appeared in many films throughout the years since his cinematic start in 1964. In addition, Fuji's status as celebrity has reached pinnacle levels in Japan through many national appearances and performances. For these reasons alone, he no doubt deserves great recognition. AND YET! He shall forever live in infamy in my little book of "WOW" (on sale now!) for his amazing self-sacrifice and utter self-lessness in accepting the role of Kichizo in Realm of the Senses (1976) and thereby earning the status of the first actor in Japanese film to receive actual, shall we say, oral bliss on film. (Also on sale now!). Here, however, the only kiss he receives is from the jellyfish.
Here's my opinion:
I really enjoyed this film. There is always much of entertainment to be had in fictional scenarios created by skillful directors. But I personally enjoy more deeply those scenarios grounded in reality. Here Kurosawa makes an intentional step toward reality in developing his (always interesting) vision of the inescapable fluidity which constitutes us all. Based on my personal experience and knowledge of Japan, this social scenario rings true (though, in fairness to my more conservative Japanese friends, I admit that these characters are dramatized). But this film definitely makes the case for youthful despair and desparation. It certainly will not seek to justify or resolve the social tension faced by Arita and Nimura, but neither does any force in (actual) contemporary culture. In fact, I would suggest that Kurosawa intentionally leaves audiences at a stage of irresolution in order that they/we might contemplate more seriously the actual direction of Japanese youth culture.
Version reviewed: Unsubtitled VHS
|One yellow skull for contemporary social commentary on disenfranchised Japanese youth. One yellow skull for seeing Kurosawa's skillful evolution of this "individulaity in metamorphosis" theme. And one yellow star for catching up with Fuji Tatsuya||Some bludgeoning aftermath (not perpetrated by the jellyfish)..||Nada.||The mystery of the poisonous jellyfish.|