Japanese pop artist and commercial phenom Takashi Murakami frequently features
his manga alter-ego, Mr. DOB in his work, it is not surprising his debut
feature film is heavy on the creatures. Eventually, a kaiju attacks, but that
also makes sense, given Ultraman’s formative
influence on his artistic development. It is all kid friendly, but in a
slightly trippy sort of way, like Sid & Marty Krofft rebooted for Japan. As
a result, one sensitive young lad is in for the weirdest coming-of-age story in
Murakami’s Jellyfish Eyes (trailer here), which screens
during the 2015 New York International Children's Film Festival.
survivor Masashi Kusakabe is relieved to be moving out of the shelter, even
though he and his mother are still deeply grieving his father. However, he
quickly suspects there is some sort of strange presence in their new exurban
apartment. That would be the critter he eventually names Kurage-bo or Jellyfish
Boy. It turns out all the kids at his new school have what they call
F.R.I.E.N.D.S., except they can control theirs with special handheld devices
given to them by the local lab, from where Kurage-bo escaped.
quickly bonds with Kurage-bo, whose resourcefulness stymies the attempted
bullying of the bad boy clique and their creepy F.R.I.E.N.D.S. It seems there
is a sort of underground F.R.I.E.N.D. fighting circuit operating afterschool.
Fortunately, Luxor, the biggest, hairiest F.R.I.E.N.D. was entrusted to Saki
Amamiya, who vehemently dislikes all forms of fighting. She is not too fond of
her mother’s doomsday cult either, but she might be okay with Kusakabe.
Unfortunately, the aspiring bullies will escalate their aggressive behavior,
with the secret encouragement of a shadowy cabal operating in the research
institute. Somehow the negative energy generated by the children and their F.R.I.E.N.D.S.
perfectly suits the needs of the so-called “Black-Cloaked Four.”
on post-screening reactions, it is safe to say Luxor is a smash hit with kids. You
have to admit, he is pretty cool and pairing him up Himeka Asami’s Amamiya just
cranks up the cuteness to Spinal Tap levels.
In contrast, Kurage-bo is sort of weird looking, but he grows on you. However, the
earnestness of young Takuto Sueoka and Asami, really sell the madness, while directly
expressing extraordinary angst no kid should have to deal with. Likewise, Mayu
Tsuruta is quite touching as Kusakabe’s bereaved but steadfast mother Yasuko.
The shadow of the 2011 disaster is constantly
present in Jellyfish Eyes, but
Murakami largely keeps it in background, rather than belaboring the point. He
clearly has a nice touch with kids, but there is a lot of manipulation and thematic
recycling going on his the boy-and-his- F.R.I.E.N.D. narrative. Nevertheless,
the bizarre details (how many kids’ films have both an apocalyptic cult and an
apocalyptic secret society?) as well as the sincerity of the primary cast
really distinguishes the film from the field. Imagine if he got together with
Takashi Miike? The mind reels. Warmly recommended for older elementary school
kids who have discovered anime or kaiju movies (and big kids who enjoy either),
Jellyfish Eyes screens again at the
SVA Theatre this coming Sunday (3/15), as part of this year’s NYICFF.
Labels: Japanese Cinema, Kaiju movies, NYICFF '15, Takashi Murakami