Jellyfish Eyes (2013), written and directed by the artist Takashi Murakami. Film still courtesy of the artist and Blum & Poe © 2015 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co. Ltd
BASEL— At the beginning of Art Basel in Basel, Takashi Murakami’s Jellyfish Eyes was screened to an excited audience made up of artists, curators, gallerists and other art professionals. Many who had not seen the film before were even more excited as it opened. The 101- minute-long fantasy movie which premiered earlier in April 2013 as part of the Film Independent series at LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art), was a major point of interest at Art Basel weeks before it opened.
Jellyfish Eyes takes a cue from the Fukushima disaster, revealing the story of a child who tries to shape a new path after been confronted by one adversity after another. At the core of the story is Masashi (Takuto Sueoka), a cute, cross-eyed kid whose life had been torn apart by misfortunes.
After the death of his father in a Fukushima-like disaster, Masashi and his mother (Mayu Tsuruta), abandon their homes for an evacuation center. The experience traumatizes Masashi who is unable to adjust to life. For a while nothing mattered any more. But just when things seemed to be looking up for Masashi and his family, they are confronted with another problem that pushes them to the brink of another meltdown. At the center of the problem is a power-hungry group called Black-Cloaked Four.
Dressed in black capes, the Black-Cloaked Four have evil in their hearts. To perpetrate their wickedness, they take over a lab where Masashi’s uncle (Takumi Saitoh) worked to conduct dangerous experiments. In the cause of their devious experiment, they discover a powerful new energy force capable of influencing children’s emotions including anger and sadness.
For the Black-Cloaked Four, the discovery of this new powerful energy force is an opportunity to manipulate the children and also create mayhem. To archive their malicious objective, they create and release hundreds of magical companions call Friends into the community with the clandestine scheme of exploiting the unhappiness they create.
Masashi encounters one of the devious Black-Cloaked Four’s creatures soon after he moves into the small town set in the Japanese countryside. After returning from his new elementary school one day, Masashi discovers a flying jellyfish-like creature. He innocently falls in love with this floating pink Friend, which he calls Kurage-bo (jellyfish boy).
But Masashi is not the only one with a Friend. When he arrives in school, he discovers that his classmates also have their own Friends, visible only to the children and never to the adults. Many of these strange creatures call Friends are beautiful and captivating just like many of Murakami’s art.
Believing that the beautiful creatures are Friends and can be controlled via an iPhone-like device, the children open up their homes and hearts to the creatures. However, it does not take long for Masashi, like his friends, to realize that these creatures are wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Captivated by the illusion of power, the children begin misusing their Friends to intimidate and bully one other, causing a lot of disaffection. With every act of aggression towards one other, the children continue to aid the Black-Cloaked Four in their effort to convert negative emotions into a ‘supra-universal power.’ In the end, however, the children realize they are been used. Consequently, Masashi and his fellow classmates combine their effort in order to defeat this wicked plan of the Black-Cloaked Four.
Featuring many of Murakami designs and characters, the film relies heavily on CGI to impact the viewing audience. In Jellyfish Eyes, the celebrated Japanese multidisciplinary artist, Murakami, brings his instantly-recognizable, genre-bending superheroes to life. Although the target audience for this film is children, this is a very scary film with a lot of purpose. It allows Murakimi to express his concern about social issues, a side of the artist not well-known to many.
The message in Jellyfish Eyes is very touching. It brings to the fore the disastrous 2011 earthquake and the resulting Fukushima nuclear meltdown that followed. The film conveys Murakami’s abhorrence of nuclear which he did not hide. Speaking through the actors, the artist also expressed his disappointment of Japanese government response to the crisis at the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear plant is also well articulated in the film.
The plight of children in the face of catastrophic events is another issue addressed in Jellyfish Eyes. In catastrophic events, children are often the most impacted. In addition to losing their parents, some are killed and mutilated. Many of those that survive are forced to leave their homes to live with people who do not know them. In Jellyfish Eyes, Masashi, the protagonist of the film, explicate the pain of Japanese children when the disaster happened. Many lost their parents and were forced to leave their homes to avoid radiation. In their new homes and school, they were bullied and maltreated.
For Jellyfish Eyes, Murakami draws inspiration from phantasmagorical Tokusatsu aesthetics which he experienced during his childhood. The films revels influences from Steven Spielberg’s ET and the live action children’s television series Power Rangers. Investing an estimated $7 million, Murakami combines a cast of flesh and blood young actors with an array of fantastical animated creatures to address important social issues.