Over the past five years, Kiyoshi Kurosawa has steadily gained recognition at festivals with distinctively atmospheric horror and alienation chillers like “Cure” and “Pulse.” Paradoxically, the prolific Japanese director graduates to the big-league Cannes competition with one of his more marginal, less accessible entries in “Bright Future.” An obscure reflection on the inter-generational impasse and empty outlook of contemporary youth, this DV-shot drama occupies wavelengths too remote to be tuned in by audiences other than diehard Asian esoterica enthusiasts.
Originally titled “Jellyfish Alert,” the story concerns young utility plant worker Yuji (Joe Odagiri), who befriends his bored, impassive colleague Mamoru (Tadanobu Asano). In addition to their inarticulate anger, the two share an annoyance with their intrusively friendly boss Fujiwara (Takashi Sasano).
After performing an errand at the man’s home and staying to dinner, Mamoru glances back at Fujiwara’s family scene and ominously informs Yuji that “a storm is coming.” For no concrete reason, Yuji plans to kill their boss, but arrives at his house to find both Fujiwara and his wife (Marumi Shiraishi) dispatched by Mamoru.
With Mamoru in prison awaiting execution for murder, Yuji is entrusted with the care of his lethally poisonous pet jellyfish, continuing the sea creature’s gradual acclimation from salt to fresh water. Following Mamoru’s execution, Yuji also forms an uneasy bond with his dead friend’s father (Tatsuya Fuji), who makes fumbling attempts to establish the kind of relationship he was unable to sustain with his son.
Kurosawa creates some striking imagery, in Yuji’s dreams of the future or in the ghostly electric glow of the red jellyfish, representing almost the only color in an otherwise bled-out visual field. The drama is shot in high-contrast tones in a limber, unconstrained style facilitated by the digital camera — 35mm blowup looks decent, without hiding its video origins.
There’s an arresting metaphor in the sea creatures’ behavior as loners that sting upon contact, and in their graceful, watery liberation from an inhospitable urban society. But the writer-director’s story sense is far too distracted, clouding the film’s themes and even its basic plotline and allowing only the most glancing insights into its characters. Relative newcomer Odagiri makes a coolly charismatic lead.