'Jellyfish Eyes' ('Mememe no Kurage'): Fantasia Review

Jellyfish Eyes - H 2014
Courtesy of Fantasia Festival

Jellyfish Eyes - H 2014

A pedestrian sci-fi kid-flick with no evident fine-art link

Much-hyped artist tries a different form of Pop

Commerce-friendly Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami, who has collaborated with everyone from Marc Jacobs to Britney Spears, turns to movies in Jellyfish Eyes, a typical Japanese children's fantasy about schoolkids who control pet monsters with a smartphone app. Though it may amuse hardcore devotees of kaiju film on video, the film hardly threatens to make Murakami the next Julian Schnabel; in fact, it's having a hard time segueing from one-off and festival bookings into a serious commercial release.

The artist has cited the Fukushima disaster as an influence, and alludes to it within the film, but the picture falls far short of Godzilla in terms of allegorical oomph. Here, a weird coven of black-hood-wearing supernatural scientists have studied the "life force that causes natural disasters," and decided it can be turned into energy by manipulating children's emotions. Or something like that. Hence the little monsters, called F.R.I.E.N.D.S., which kids hide from adults and bond with in private. Alas, they also set the monsters against each other in dogfight-like contests that our young heroes Masashi (Takuto Sueoka) and Saki (Himeka Asami) find distasteful. While trying to get their peers to stop this violent game, they stumble across a plot that will eventually unleash a skyscraper-sized monster that might destroy the world.

Murakami surely enjoyed helping design the dozens of beasties these kids play with, but even as moving, 3D-rendered objects they're less lively and cartoonishly amusing than his best creations on canvas; the one exception is a bear-sized, shaggy beast that is played by an actor in a suit instead of being computer-created.

Art fans might reasonably expect one of the world's most successful painters to display a distinctive or at least appealing visual sense here, but they will be disappointed by Yasutaka Nagano's pedestrian photography; the film fares even worse in terms of storytelling and pacing. While Murakami's art sometimes suggests an ironic distance between smiley-face surface and darker subtext, this plays as a straightforward kid-flick weighed down by neither camp nor satire. One can only pray that, while nothing here seems to be a joke, the pic's post-credits promise of a sequel is just that.

Production companies: Kaikai Kiki Co., Nishimura Motion Picture Model Makers Group

Cast: Takuto Sueoka, Himeka Asami, Takumi Saito, Shota Sometani, Masataka Kubota

Director: Takashi Murakami

Screenwriters: Yoshihiro Nishimura, Jun Tsugita

Producers: Mana Fukui, Chiaki Kasahara, Yoshihiro Nishimura

Executive producers: Takashi Murakami

Director of photography: Yasutaka Nagano

Production designer: Nori Fukuda

Editor: Yoshihiro Nishimura

Music: kz, Masahiro Tobinai, SmileR

No rating, 101 minutes