Takashi Murakami is well-known for both his own art as well as his promotion and curation of other young artists’ work. So what’s he doing directing Jellyfish Eyes, a family-friendly monster fighting film, alongside the writer of recent bloody Japanese exports Mutant Girls Squad and Helldriver? That film is getting a limited number of screenings throughout the U.S. in the coming weeks, with one very limited engagement planned for L.A. at the end of May.
“It’s really all about the timing,” Murakami told me in a recent phone interview (via an interpreter). “Around 2012, after the quake, I met the B movie director – actually gore movies – named Mr. [Yoshihiro] Nishimura. And he said ‘If you want to make a film, I’d be happy to do it with you.'”
Murakami figured this would be the perfect chance to try something new after previous attempts to get a feature-length project off the ground. About 15 years ago, Murakami established an animation studio in order to develop his own short films. Although he struggled “through trial and error” to get several shorts made, “I never got to the feature-length animation film, even though I wanted to.”
Nishimura’s offer seemed perfect, and Murakami planned to jump into the world of B-horror films feet first. “But after the earthquake, a horror movie didn’t seem like a good fit for the atmosphere in Japan.”
Instead of coming up with something light and goofy for his first effort, Murakami decided to tackle the disaster in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami head-on with Jellyfish Eyes. The film features a small community in a panic thanks to threats of spreading radiation, as well as the government’s lack of response to the devastation caused by the recent series of natural disasters. In the middle of this, a group of sinister, masked types plan to manipulate the fears and anxieties of the local kids, using a magical monster battling game.
“When I was a child, the images that had the most impact on me were the ones from Vietnam,” Murakami explained when asked why he chose to tell this story of the post-quake Japan through the eyes of children. He says his dad, who worked as a taxi driver but also served as a member of the Self Defense Force and was something of a military geek, kept magazines and books around which brought the ongoing conflict home.
“Even when I was 4 or 5, I remember wondering why people go to war, and asking my parents.” He added, “When children see images that are very impactful, they question and worry.”
Although Jellyfish Eyes looks like a B movie geared towards children, Murakami said it’s really concerned with some of the larger social issues in which kids might be interested that don’t get touched upon in programming aimed specifically at them. “You want the children in the audience to ask their parents, ‘What does this mean,’ or maybe start asking some of the questions about what they’re seeing for themselves.”
So with his first film out of the way, can we finally expect to see that planned feature-length animation (or maybe even the abandoned horror project)? That’s a big “no” on the horror project. However, “I probably want to do an animated Jellyfish Eyes,” he teased.
Jellyfish Eyes will have a limited run throughout the U.S. this Spring. L.A. residents can catch a screening at the Theater at Ace Hotel on May 30th.