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Imagine an app for your phone that would allow you to control your own super-powered alien sidekick who could both defend you from hostile attackers and save the planet from the forces of a nuclear disaster. This idea becomes reality in Jellyfish Eyes, the first feature film directed by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami. Though Murakami has been a major presence in the art world since the 1990s, he is perhaps best known to the public for his collaboration with Marc Jacobs at Louis Vuitton, where he inserted his signature anime eye into their logo pattern. A retrospective of Murakami’s work was organized by curator Paul Schimmel at MOCA Los Angeles in 2007, which then traveled to the Brooklyn Museum and the Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain.
Murakami’s film, currently touring the U.S. in limited release, encapsulates the complex emotional lives of young people in a way that only classic films like E.T. and Rebel Without a Cause have done before. The debut feature may or may not be a masterpiece on the level of his cinematic forebears, but there is a powerful cultural subtext to the sci-fi thriller that is an important reflection on our times. By having the children in the film interact through their device-controlled animated F.R.I.E.N.D.s, the artist addresses the way in which society’s obsession with technology interferes with our ability to communicate with one another.
The Hollywood Reporter recently sat down with the acclaimed Japanese artist (and his translator) prior to his upcoming talk in the Broad Museum’s “Unprivate Collection” series. Murakami will be talking with writer Pico Iyer at the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday.
Murakami shared his thoughts on the motivation to create Jellyfish Eyes, why L.A. has been an important source of inspiration, and his excitement about the upcoming Star Wars film.
The Hollywood Reporter: Your film, Jellyfish Eyes, has been in the making for a number of years and you have spoken about how the Fukushima nuclear disaster was an influence on the story in the film. What other factors inspired you?
Takashi Murakami: The audience for the film is children. After the nuclear disaster, adults were losing hope and many things were in question. Adults were talking about the plant meltdown, and then children were beginning to ask these questions: What is energy? Why do we have to build these nuclear power plants? And paired with that, after the war, Japan had this idea that people are the real resource to be treasured and educated. They focused intensely on education until a point came where society turned around and began to relax the pressure on children. However, many of the children of this generation lost the sense of responsibility to be a part of society. So the idea I am trying to work through with the film is that in the end these children have to realize that they individually have to become the power for their society.
Your focus on children is reminiscent of how the American director Steven Spielberg captured the child’s perspective in his early films like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. Is he an inspiration?
Yes, I am of the generation that was absolutely inspired by directors like Spielberg. In addition to that when I was younger I watched a lot of Japanese sci-fi TV like Ultraman and Godzilla and the Kaiju films. So there is the combination of those two, which led me to create my own film.
Can you tell me what Los Angeles and “Hollywood” has meant for you in your career? Has Walt Disney had an impact on you as an artist and as patron and founder of CalArts?
When I first started studying art, the first influence I had was from New York — the new painters — Basquiat and Schnabel — and then I started looking at American Expressionism in the era of Clement Greenberg and I was influenced by them. I struggled with painting in abstract styles, but didn’t quite make sense to me. And then I saw the catalogue for the Helter Skelter show in L.A. put together by Paul Schimmel. Also, at that time, Mike Kelley‘s smaller scale works were being shown in Japan. And this was a revelation because it’s so free from the idea of these masterpieces and abstract expressionism or theories. It seemed like some of the inspiration for these pieces could have happened in a second, and then he put that into the painting. And the core of Helter Skelter was the dark side of one’s heart or psyche — so I really was inspired by it.
Also, L.A. has given me a lot of opportunities throughout my career — Blum & Poe is here representing me, and Paul Schimmel organized my retrospective at MOCA. And the fact that Mike Kelley graduated from CalArts — which Disney established — and that other successful contemporary artists are coming out of the university that was established by the animation industry tells me that this city is a good fit.
Can you say a little bit about how the Broads — Eli and Edythe — have impacted your work as collectors?
The Broads are such an amazingly unique existence even within the group of collectors and patrons. I’m sure that other people feel that way, as well.
The scale on which they operate is completely different. I feel like they are just way ahead of the artists — the speed, the scale and the energy is beyond the artists. I can’t catch up. I am wondering what they are thinking — I would like to interview them!
You work has been seen in major galleries and museums around the world, on Louis Vuitton handbags, in a music video with Pharrell Williams and in the palace of Versailles. What is the next frontier?
In creating the film this time, I realized that music was such a huge part of my creative process. To create a great film, you have to have great music, a great script; the acting has to be amazing. In order to perfect such an art and combine all of these elements in an optimal way, I think it will take the rest of my life.
Are you a fan of Star Wars?
(Murakami — in English — without the help of the interpreter) Yes, big fan. Super big fan. In the car here, I saw an Instagram where J.J. Abrams and Harrison Ford had a meeting for a film shoot, and I think “Oh, this is so great!”
For more information about the ‘Unprivate Collection’ series presented by the Broad Museum, visit their website at www.thebroad.org/programs.
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