Director: Takashi Murakami
Studio: Kaikai Kiki Co.
Stars: Himeka Asami, Masataka Kubota, Asuka Kurosawa
Jellyfish Eyes is one deeply weird kettle of fish. The first film directed by Japanese mixed media artist Takashi Murakami and apparently a decade in the planning, it’s many different kinds of movies at once.
On the one hand, it's a kid-friendly mash-up of live action and CGI animation that recalls ET. But it's also a monster flick that reminds us of the angst and environmental malaise of the original Godzilla, a madcap blend of the poetic and the cheesiness of Spy Kids. It blends cute and cloying with nightmarish. And not surprisingly, considering it’s from Murakami's wild imagination, the movie is trippy and crammed with eye-searing color and gorgeously composed images. Some of it works magnificently, lots of it doesn’t, but it’s never less than a fascinating watch and there's certainly no question that Murakami, who wrote the original story that inspired the screenplay by Yoshihiro Nishimura and Jun Tsugita, feels the story deeply.
It’s about a young boy and his mother who move to a new, deceptively beautiful countryside town after the death of the boy’s father in the wake of the 2011 earthquake and the ongoing Fukushima nightmare. The place is populated not only by clueless parents and teachers (perhaps suffering from PTSD?) but also by melancholy, angry kids who bully others and stage battles with strange, fantastically imaginative iPhone-controlled pets known as “F.R.I.E.N.D.S.” and visible only to children. The sad-eyed, sweet and grieving young hero of the movie, still suffering from dreams and nightmares about his loving father, becomes deeply attached to a fancifully designed, androgynous little creature who comes to live with him and loves sweets; their relationship is moving, transforming and charmingly strange.
Bubbling under all of this is a sinister undertow of religious cults, horrifying experiments and a dark purpose that come together in a whopper of a finale. Murakami has already filmed the sequel and plans on ending the trilogy with another film set to shoot later this year. He’s onto something familiar yet utterly personal and unique. And you certainly can’t say that about most films being made these days.