Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami is well known for his highly imaginative style, his use of bright colours, and cartoon imagery. In his directorial film debut, Murakami brings us Jellyfish Eyes (or, Mememe no Kurage), released in 2013 in Japan, and 2015 in the United States. Jellyfish Eyes is an adventurous story about family, friendship, loyalty, and little monsters that fight each other for fun. Its synopsis is as follows:
Having moved to the country with his mother following the death of his father, young Masashi (Takuto Sueoka) immediately makes a most unlikely friend: a flying, jellyfish-like sprite that he nicknames Kurage-bo. Taking Kurage-bo under his wing and into the classroom, Masashi soon discovers that his schoolmates have similar friends – and that they, their creators, and the town itself are not all they seem to be. Pointedly set in a post-Fukushima world, Murakami’s film carries a message of cooperation and hope while boasting unforgettable creature designs and handmade special effects nearly a decade in the making. (source)
Here is a selection of my thoughts on Jellyfish Eyes.
- I chose this to be part of my Blindspot series for 2016 because I love strange Japanese films.
- Jellyfish Eyes was released as part of the Criterion Collection in December 2015, and it’s puzzling to try and figure out exactly why. I’m not sure there’s anything else in the famed Collection like this film.
- Jellyfish Eyes has some solid child acting which is refreshing to see. Takuto Sueoka appears to have a lot of fun playing main character and new-kid-in-town Masashi, particularly during the fun scenes with his jellyfish monster friend Kurage-bo.
- It is a bit of a shame that the acting on display by the adults is largely sub-par. Considering this may be intended as a children’s movie, it makes sense that the adults are less of a focus. But when watching this as an adult, the poor acting is quite distracting.
- That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy Jellyfish Eyes. It actually was a nice throwback to old school television shows such as Pokémon and Digimon, which I found to be so much fun back in the day.
- There are some lovely shots of the Japanese countryside and rural towns which I really loved.
- There are also a lot of exhilarating battles between the little (and big) monsters (which are interestingly titled F.R.I.E.N.D.s) that don’t feel like a waste of time, as there is some useful character development alongside each battle.
- However, a lot of the graphics appear of somewhat low quality, which is at odds with Murakami’s generally seamless artistic style.
- There is also a lot of exposition throughout the film, particularly where the cartoonish villains (also poorly acted) come in and begin explaining the scientific concepts behind the F.R.I.E.N.D.s, their general intent, and the main battle scene.
- I suppose in general I’m a bit confused about who this film is aimed at. It seems too long and fairly complex for younger children, but too child-like for adults to thoroughly enjoy.
- The most interesting part of Jellyfish Eyes is the fact that the story is firmly rooted in post-Fukushima disaster Japan, with our main character Masashi having recurring nightmares about tsunamis and his family’s personal loss. I enjoyed watching the film from this unique perspective, although the references to the 2011 disaster do lessen as the film progresses.
- Also, Kurage-bo is a really cute monster.
- If you’re interested, here is a very intriguing article including an interview with Murakami himself, where he discusses the artistic intent behind the film which he intended for children to see.
- Some may say that Jellyfish Eyes is a nice allegory for moving on from childhood to adolescence and letting go of childhood life, or that the film is an allegory for post-disaster trauma and dissociation from reality. Either way, it’s an interesting film, but perhaps not worth a watch if you feel exhausted by the trailer linked below.
Watch the trailer here.