Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa. Jap. 2002. 115 mins.

Bright Future is more arthouse than midnight screening material, but its style and concerns are vintage Kiyoshi Kurosawa - and it should interest his growing international fan base, especially when they hear that a poisonous jellyfish is a central character. Although the film may successfully play the festival circuit, Kurosawa's backers are no doubt hoping that he reverts to commercial form next time out: horror still outsells angst. The film, which premiered at the Tokyo Filmex Festival in December, plays in competition at Cannes this month.

How can a title like Bright Future (Akarui Mirai) not be ironic when Kiyoshi Kurosawa is the director' Best known for films like Cure and Pulse (Kairo) that chill the spine more than they warm the heart, Kurosawa is the dark prince of the Japanese New Wave. In his horror and sci-fi genre efforts, he delivers jolts with minimal means, aided by instantly recognisable atmospherics. However placid the surface, in the background is an unsettling hum of impeding violence -or world-shattering doom.

Bright Future is Kurosawa in a more realistic mode. Instead of serial killers or ghosts in machines, his heroes are two guys working in a plant that processes wet hand towels. Both struggle with a rage they can barely articulate or control - an increasingly common phenomenon in once-peaceful Japan.

Mamoru (Tadanobu Asano) and Yuji (Joe Odagiri) are both anti-social types who find their reflections in each other. Yuji worships the older, enigmatic Mamoru, who lives alone with said jellyfish. Mamoru shows him how to care for the creature - and Yuji proves an eager pupil.

One day their boss (Takashi Sasano) visits Mamoru's apartment and playfully sticks his hand in the tank. Yuji is about to warn him, when Mamoru signals him to stop as the boss had earlier pressed them into service as furniture movers for his shrew of a wife.

The boss, however, later learns that the jellyfish could have killed him and fires Mamoru on the spot. Enraged, Yuji grabs a pipe and storms over to the boss's house with lethal intent. He finds, however, that Mamoru has already been there first - and left two bodies in his wake.

Mamoru is arrested, and while awaiting trial is more worried about his pet than his future. For Yuji, however, it has become a stand-in for his jailed friend - and a link to a lost paradise.

Mamoru's father, Shinichiro (Tatsuya Fuji), then meets his son for the first time in five years. The reunion is awkward, but Shinichiro is sympathetic to Mamoru's plight. A fixer and seller of discarded televisions and other technological detritus, he also wants to repair his relationship with his son. It is too late for Mamoru, though, who is sentenced to death. Yuji is another matter.

As played by Tadanobu Asano, Mamoru is uncannily like his jellyfish: An unreadable face and a distant manner coupled with a deadly rage. As Yuji Joe Odagiri is equally an Angry Young Man, albeit one who is more recognisably human (and looks more like a member of a boy band). These two wear stylish, shredded skin-tight outfits designed by Micihiko Kitamura that make them look like fighters from Terminator 2, perfectly fulfilling Kurosawa's outsiders-against-the-world vision.

As the third corner of this unusual triangle veteran Tatsuya Fuji (In The Realm Of The Senses) projects the existential ache of a man who has lost nearly everything -- but a job that is daily more pointless. His Shinichiro still has hope, however small, for something better. The film's title, in Kurosawa's mind at least, is entirely sincere.

Prod cos: Uplink, Digital Site, Klockworx, Yomiuri TV
Japan dist/int'l sales:
Takashi Asai, Harumi Noshita, Sadayuki Iwase
Takahide Shibanushi
Prod des:
Yasuaki Harada
Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Perfect 231
Main cast:
Tadanobu Asano, Joe Odagiri, Tatsuya Fuji, Takashi Sasano