Jellyfish Eyes tells the story of Masashi, a young boy who moves to a sleepy town in the Japanese countryside with his mother in the wake of a natural disaster. After returning home from his new elementary school one day, Masashi discovers a flying jellyfish-like creature whom he befriends and names Kurage-bo. Masashi soon discovers that all his classmates have similarly magical pets, known as F.R.I.E.N.D.s, which are controlled by electronic devices that the children use to battle one another. Despite their playful appearances, however, these F.R.I.E.N.D.s turn out to be part of a sinister plot. (synopsis via First Showing)
Growing up is never easy.
But it becomes exponentially harder when you’re called upon to cope with the sort of stress no child should ever have to face.
And in the case of Masashi, the young protagonist in Jellyfish Eyes, the directorial debut by talented Japanese artist, and lover of bright, vibrant colours, Takashi Murakami, which debuted at Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s Bing Theater in April 2013, it’s a considerable amount of stress indeed.
Forced to leave the only home he has ever known, he finds himself in a so-called “experimental city” where everyone has a F.R.I.E.N.D. of their own, who begin as cute, cuddly creatures but who over time, drawing on the angry energy of the displaced children, grow into something a tad more fearsome.
And of course all hell breaks loose as they run amuck.
As First Showing notes, this is very much a coming-of-age story, an inventive mix of Gremlins and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial, which explores via a wildly imaginative story and gorgeously rendered visuals what it is like to cope with the upending of your much-cherished familiar world and the inevitable cavalcade of emotions that follows in its wake.
And the visuals are fantastically beautiful and enchanting.
They draw on the time-honoured idea that the best way to tackle a difficult subject is to cloak in its appealingly attractive clothes – much like many Scandinavian artists who combine melancholic exploration of the business of being human with upbeat music – and if the trailer is any guide, they succeed in their task, drawing us into what looks like a magical world that hides some very dark secrets.
This “spoonful of sugar” approach works well for the film which has a passion project for Murakami and his team, and many years in the making as this excerpt from the official Jellyfish Eyes site makes clear:
“The Jellyfish Eyes project began over ten years ago as a full cg animated film but after many twists and turns, it was put on the shelf. It was only after meeting Yoshihiro Nishimura of Nishimura Eizou that it was reborn as a live action feature.”
It’s a project that gained more impetus in the wake of the devastating earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan on May 11, 2011 (this disaster was also touchingly and powerfully handled in the film By Your Side) as Murakami goes on to explain:
“In the wake of 3/11, the damage sustained by Japan runs deep. We must all do our best to emerge from that shadow. It will require connections among people… more to the point, it will require the instinctive ability to spot opportunity and inspire trust.”
It is a breathtakingly beautiful, emotionally poignant film that is both an astonishingly inventive work of art and the carrier of the important message that healing is possible but not without some trauma in the process.
Jellyfish Eyes, which has already enjoyed a successful run at Japanese cinemas in 2013, is gearing up for a series of screenings throughout the USA – details can be found via First Showing – although there is no mention yet of a wider release schedule in USA or Australia.
And check out this video from Nowness where Murakami explains the reaction he hopes Jellyfish Eyes will engender (among other things) …