It is a new year, and with a new year comes new possibilities and hopes. Indeed the future is bright…and beautiful…enticing…and dangerous…like a jellyfish.
Available…erm…online. Approximately 115 minutes.
24-year-old Yuji Nimura works part-time in a factory and is friends with 27-year-old Mamoru Arita. He spends his nights playing at a bowling alley and the rest of the time moving as little as possible. He likes to dream, because his dreams have always been of a peaceful future…at least until recently.
One day, their boss asks them to help him take his daughter’s new desk to his house and bring it up to her room. They stay over for dinner as their boss and his wife ask them about themselves. Mamoru is not very forthcoming, but Yuji reveals that he likes music. His boss asks if he can borrow a CD and Yuji agrees.
The next day, the boss offers a bonus, says that he would like to hire Yuji and Mamoru full time, and then abruptly demands one of Yuji’s CDs. Right now. And then he provides them the contract. Yuji thinks it over while Mamoru…doesn’t really. Will things change if they sign full time? Hopefully not.
That night, Yuji goes to a restaurant with his sister and her boyfriend. It seems like her boyfriend wants to befriend Yuji, or at least act respectful. She, however, is not all that happy to have her slovenly brother tag along, especially when he suggests that they go to an arcade. Yuji doesn’t really care either way.
The next day, Yuji is hanging out at Mamoru’s place. Entranced by Mamoru’s pet jellyfish, he goes over to the tank and sticks his hand inside, even though Mamoru had already told him not to mock the jellyfish’s venom that the last time he was there. Their boss comes over with some sushi and…starts to ramble about how he was different when he was in his twenties like them. He had direction and goals and whatever. Then he watches Mamoru’s television.
Eventually, the boss notices the jellyfish and also tries to stick his hand in the tank. Yuji almost warns him against doing so, but Mamoru stops him, so the boss sticks his hand in.
Later on, Mamoru decides that he should leave. He transfers the jellyfish to Yuji’s place and tells him to gradually replace the saltwater with freshwater. Mamoru quits his job at the factory, ostensibly after the boss learns that the jellyfish that Mamoru let him touch was venomous. It is not entirely clear whether Yuji quits too, but it becomes irrelevant pretty soon.
Yuji goes to Mamoru’s place that night, but Mamoru is not there. He goes to the arcade, but it is closed. He goes back home and looks through his CD collection and remembers that the boss still has that CD. Now, he could wait until the morning to ask for the CD or even call up the boss. The boss who forced Mamoru to leave. Instead, he goes back outside, finds a long metal rod, and swings it around. He then goes over to the house where his boss lives and finds that neither he nor his wife live there anymore…because they have been murdered. Yuji runs back home and calls the police. Meanwhile the little girl is wandering around the city streets in the middle of the night. Mamoru is arrested and almost immediately confesses.
The movie suddenly introduces Mamoru’s father, who has not seen him in seven years. Mr. Arita meets with Mamoru’s lawyer, who is not too optimistic about his chances of going free. Mr. Arita is not sure whether visiting him in prison will do anything, but she says that he has to go see him. He is almost immediately hounded by reporters after he leaves her office.
Yuji goes to meet Mamoru, who seems to suspect that Yuji reported him, but does not seem to care either way. Yuji says that he had gone to get his CD back and that he should have killed the boss instead. Mamoru does not seem to care about that either, and changes the subject to the jellyfish. It is still a baby, so Mamoru is depending on Yuji to take are of it.
In case you could not tell from the screenshots, this is a rather cheaply-made movie. Not only that, it is rather leisurely-paced, like a jellyfish…maybe…not really making it the most gripping of movies. You really do have to invest yourself in it and tune yourself to its wavelength. If you can do that, then you might enjoy it. Or you might not. I did.
The movie does not really make it subtle that the jellyfish is a metaphor for the two men. Or…the two men are metaphors for the jellyfish. Mamoru even explicitly compares it to Yuji at one point. Yuji is an aimless creature of habit, content to do absolutely nothing for days on end. He does not act out, probably preferring to sleep than to engage in any sort of performative relief from boredom. Yet, he will resort to both sudden and sustained violence if irritated enough, regardless of what provokes him.
Mamoru is more impulsive and action-oriented, with taking care of the jellyfish his only real tether to long-term discipline. He is a little more happy with his life, but also happy to completely upend it. His gradual replacement of the water may have an actual purpose, but what are the risks involved? Is he prepping the jellyfish for something? Is he doing something similar to Yuji?
The jellyfish seems to live a life of status quo, perhaps not realizing that its small world is slowly changing through the desalting of its tank. Or maybe it does realize, but cannot do anything about that and, thus, does nothing. Is it like the frog in slowly boiling water scenario or is it different? How does it see its world and the world beyond itself? How does it see the humans? Its own life? Does it dream? It is not easy to interpret the jellyfish’s behavior or lack thereof. But the same may go for the two main characters. They may seem more easily relatable in certain respects, but they can also be just as alien. They do not understand the world; the world does not understand them, but all are fine not understanding…until they are not.
The slow change is replaced by sudden change by way of the boss. Obviously, neither he nor his wife deserved to be murdered, but he would have been perfectly safe had he not inserted himself into the lives of these seemingly docile creatures. Mamoru entrusts his tether of responsibility to his friend Yuji, and then goes on to commit double murder. Something that Yuji would have done himself had Mamoru not beaten him to it. Why? Does Yuji even know? Perhaps Mamoru killed them out of vengeance or just to save Yuji from prison. Various other major changes occur, including the Yuji having to replace Mamoru as his companion with the older Arita around halfway through the movie.
There is a sense of attempts to communicate beyond simple language. Words left unsaid. Matters left uncertain. I have also seen suggestions of gay subtext which…I am not sure that I quite see it, but why not. This movie leaves a lot of empty spaces from which multiple stories can be told.
Creatures may be content with the status quo, even if the status quo is actually a slow deterioration. Slow changes. Slow evolution can be accepted. But sudden change can be scary, infuriating; one may react with flailing fear and violent anger. If, however these sudden changes comes a new normal, then all will have to adapt or perish. And maybe a few will even flourish. But not all. Perhaps, not so gradually, the previously aimless Yuji starts to find purpose and something that brings forth feelings other than mild curiosity or violent anger. Does he become better for it? Does the world become better for it? I guess that that is for the future to decide. In any case, I quite like this movie.
WTF ASIA 143: Helios (Hong Kong: 2015, approx. 118 minutes)
WTF ASIA 144: A Girl at My Door (South Korea: 2014, approx. 119 minutes)