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Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2003

Shooting a work in progress

Directors, a wise critic once said, are devious. After interviewing my share over the years, I understand what he means: Most directors come to media interviews or press conferences with a script more or less prepared in their heads, ready to spin their latest masterpiece.

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Director Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is different -- he articulates his views clearly enough, in a baritone voice and slow cadences that are an interviewer's delight, but he doesn't spin so much as engage. His film remains something of a puzzle to him -- and he would be only too glad if the interviewer could help him solve it. This attitude is so rare -- and disarming -- that the interviewer is tempted to drop the usual fencing and volunteer as an unpaid script adviser. Also, in person, Kurosawa is not the severe auteur you see in photos of him. Uneasy about this business of interviewing, to be sure -- but ready to laugh at himself. Our half-hour talk, in a noisy basement coffee shop, clipped along without a lull -- though I felt that silence would have suited him equally well.

Watching "Akarui Mirai (Bright Future)" for the second time, I was struck by the costumes of the two lead characters, Yuji and Mamoru. Their clothes put them at one remove from the everyday world.

The costume designer, Michiko Kitamura, really understood what I was trying to say in the script. I gave her carte blanche to design whatever costumes she wanted, as long as they had a look of poverty -- that was important. She came up with a unique look -- out of the ordinary in a stylish way, but at the same time, ragged.

Their clothes seem to draw the two characters closer together. They give you a clearer insight into their relationship. Of course, the film is more than just them. You have the relationship between Yuji and Mamoru, the relationship between Mamoru and his father, Shinichiro, and between Shinichiro and Yuji. And then there's the relationship between Mamoru and his jellyfish.

[Laughs] True, the film tells a generational story -- but it's not only that. For me two key elements are the costumes and the jellyfish. In a sense, the film is constructed around these elements.

I wanted to make something that was not a genre film -- something that would be about people who are living in Tokyo today, but are somehow removed from it. The jellyfish is a symbol of that stance: It may look weak, but it's not -- it can defend itself with poison. It's off by itself -- independent and alone.

The two main characters, Mamoru and Yuji, become enraged for what seems to be little reason, even to the point of murder. It's hard to understand why they do what they do.

They don't understand it themselves. They just flow along with their feelings -- their violence is a natural expression of who they are.

Violence is a handy tool for injecting drama into a film. When you want to raise the level of tension, use violence. In this film violence also serves the purpose of bringing the characters closer together, much more effectively than talk would.

For me, though, the film was less about violence than a kind of love story.

It's about two young men who try to reach a kind of understanding, but try as they might, they can't understand everything about each other. Still they do understand a lot and come to like each other. So in that sense, it's a love story.

I had the feeling that you didn't understand everything about them either.

I couldn't grasp everything, just bits and pieces. In a way Mamoru and Yuji remain a mystery to me.

As you said, the jellyfish is an important symbol in the film.

Yes, there's something that's fascinating about them. I found myself staring at the one we used for the film. What was it thinking? [laughs] Well, perhaps it's not thinking anything, but I felt like touching it, despite the consequences [laughs].

The jellyfish is an important metaphor. It lives in the dark waters of the sea, but it gives off light -- not a bright light, but still a light. Also, it's not headed in any particular direction. Instead, it's floating by itself, protecting its own bit of space.

The character Mamoru is similar. He has a certain charisma, but if you get too close, he can be dangerous.

Yes, he's a lot like the jellyfish. You never know quite what he's thinking. Also, you can't let him go free in society. Jellyfish are beautiful, but in the film, after they're released into the water, they sting people. He's the same way.

He lives by his own rules, outside of society.

In the films I've made until now, the characters find themselves in a world in which the rules are changing -- and they have to adapt. The most extreme example is "Charisma" (1998). In that film nature itself is changing. It's a constant theme in my films, including this one.

The title "Bright Future" first struck me as ironic, but as I watched it I realized that, in the case of Yuji at least, you meant it sincerely, that he at least has the chance of a brighter future.

When people use the expression "a bright future" they're nearly always talking about a future they expect to arrive as a sort of gift from outside. I have a different idea -- that a bright future is something you make for yourself. I wanted to make a film that expressed that idea, that the future can be bright, at least for certain individuals. I didn't mean the title to be ironic.

At the same time, I can't say for certain what kind of future awaits society as a whole. I can only talk about the futures we create as individuals. Actually, I think the future for Japan and the world may well be dark. But the future of society and the future of the individual can be very different. You can still have a bright future as an individual, despite what is happening in the world.

I don't know what kind of future Yuji will have, though.

Did you explain these ideas to the actors when you were directing them -- saying that the jellyfish is a metaphor for this or that?

No, not at all, for two reasons. First, these are only my ideas; they may have other ones. I didn't want to force them to think my way. The fact that everyone has his or her way of thinking -- and consequently direction in life -- is an important theme of the film.

Second, I didn't really understand the film myself. I was thinking about it as I made it. Now that I've made it I may understand it better, but I still don't understand everything. Talking to people like you, I start to see it in new ways -- I come to understand it more and more.

Was there any particular reason to shoot it in video, other than budgetary considerations?

I shot it on video, but it's being transferred to film. I didn't have a particular desire to shoot it on video -- it's just one of several ways of making a film. No matter whether you're using video or film, the things you're shooting are still analog [laughs].

The main advantage of video is that you don't have to light it the way you do film. With film lighting, you get a strong contrast between light and dark. The actors are in the light, the crew is in the dark. With video, however, both the actors and the crew are in the same light -- we're all together. It makes it more real somehow. I like that feeling.

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